Currently, 12 percent of U.S. land is protected. To reach the Biden administration’s goal of 30 percent of land in conservation by 2030, “they’d have to add on 440 million acres or the equivalent of nine states of Nebraska,” Ricketts says.
In this episode, Ricketts explains why he believes the plan will be devastating to small farmers and ranchers and ultimately drive up the cost of food.
Jan Jekielek: This is American Thought Leaders and I’m Jan Jekielek. Governor Pete Ricketts, so great to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Governor Pete Ricketts: It’s my pleasure. Thanks very much for having me on.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about 30 by 30. This is something Nebraska has become a center point for opposition to this proposed, I guess you could say program. And so why do you think that is?
Gov. Ricketts: Well, let me take a step back for your viewers who may not know what that is. So 30 by 30 is what the Biden administration has proposed to put 30 percent of the land in the United States, land and waters, into conservation by the year 2030. And according to their own numbers, right now we’re at 12 percent.
To get to 30 percent, they’d have to add on 440 million acres, or the equivalent of nine states of Nebraska or two states of Texas; you can take your pick.
You can see that’s a very ambitious program. Here in Nebraska, we’re 97 percent privately owned. So if you were to get to 30 percent, I don’t see how they can do that with what they claim to be a voluntary local program. This has all been very vague. They haven’t really given us a lot of details. That’s really one of the reasons why we’re so concerned.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you think of the 30 by 30, the name, when you first heard it? What went through your head?
Gov. Ricketts: Well, I think it’s important to understand the context. The name 30 by 30 actually is driven by the environmental groups. The Center for American Progress published a report in August of 2019 that called for the 30 by 30 plan.
That actually predates that going back to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity from 1992, where the UN said, “Hey, all countries should establish goals for how much land is in permanent conservation.” At that time, they were talking about [land] purely preserved in the natural state. Which again is different from what the Biden administration is using as conservation.
But that language of 30 by 30 comes from the environmental groups. The Biden administration basically just parroted what was in that Center for American Progress report in their executive order, and in the fact sheet that came out afterwards on January 27th. Where they used the same sort of statistics about a million species going extinct in the coming decades, 1/3 of U.S. wildlife, every 30 seconds, a football field worth of land disappears.
They lifted that entirely from the Center for American Progress paper from August 2019. They’re basically just lifting the language. And I think what they saw was that this is really bad, because it really says 30 percent by 2030. It describes very clearly what they’re trying to accomplish. And to me, when I first heard that, I’m like, “Well, that is crazy. I mean, how are you gonna get that done? “
So that was my first reaction. And that’s why they’ve since come back and now tried to rename the plan—the America the Beautiful plan. Sounds much better, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want America to be beautiful? They’ve realized they made a mistake in allowing it to be framed as 30 by 30. They’re trying to change it now to something else, the America the Beautiful plan, but it’s still basically the same plan.
Mr. Jekielek: So, it is being described as a voluntary program where farmers and so forth are basically paid to keep their lands fallow or I suppose, right?
Gov. Ricketts: Yeah. There are a number of programs we’ve had; for example, the Conservation Reserve Program, which has been around since 1985. And that’s for farmers or ranchers who wanna put their land into conservation, and then the government will reimburse them for that. But those voluntary programs, again, have been around for decades.
We’ve gotten to 12 percent. How do they expect to get to 30 percent with those same voluntary programs? The president does not have constitutional authority to mandate 30 percent of the land go into conservation. What they’ve said is they’re gonna keep using these voluntary programs that are in place, because they don’t have any choice. They don’t have anything else they can do.
But they’re not gonna get the 30 percent that way in the next nine years when over the last several decades they didn’t get there. So that leaves the question, well, how are you gonna get to 30 percent? It’s either they’re gonna fail in their attempt to get to 30 percent, or they’re not telling us how they are gonna get to 30 percent.
Mr. Jekielek: So on the other side, I’ve heard that eminent domain can basically be discussed as a potential route. Are there real concerns about this kind of use?
Gov. Ricketts: I think eminent domain is unlikely to be used in this context. I think it’s more likely what the federal government is gonna do is try to extend their regulatory authority over private property; to restrict people’s private property rights.
So for example, one of the things I’ve been telling people when their CRP, that Conservation Reserve Program, when that program on your land comes up for renewal, read the fine print in that new document, because USDA may be putting additional restrictions on you.
I talked to one rancher for example who when his CRP agreement came back to him for renewal, they had put language in there to protect the habitat of swift fox. He did not know what that meant. He had never seen a swift fox on his property. Asked USDA, what does this mean? And USDA could not tell him what he had to do to protect the habitat of the swift fox. He was concerned by that.
He didn’t re-up his CRP land, because he didn’t wanna commit to something that they couldn’t tell him what he had to do. Pretty straightforward, right? So that’s one of the things we’re telling people, Is read the fine print on your documents.
I think another way they’re gonna try and do it is through permanent easements, which is really getting landowners to voluntarily agree to put their land in permanent conservation. And we want landowners to know that if you do that, you can’t get it back. It’s a one-way street. And you’ve permanently restricted your land, which means you’ve given up your private property rights.
Now, as private landowners, they can do that, but we want them to be aware of all the rules when they get involved with that. And we also want counties to know that they can reject or approve those permanent easements, if they’ve set up the structure to review those in an objective way. So that’s also part of the education process that we’re going around the state telling people about.
Narration: We reached out to the Interior Department to ask for more details on the 30 by 30 plan. An official told us it’s a voluntary program: “there will be no land grabs.” So far, the administration has announced the plan will include increasing the Sabinoso Wilderness by 40 percent, establishing a deep-sea coral protection area, expanding the conservation reserve program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, among other initiatives.
An Interior Department Spokesperson told The Epoch Times: “We are encouraged by the dozens of counties, cities, Tribal governments, and states that have expressed support for the America the Beautiful initiative and that are moving forward with efforts to restore and conserve the places that matter most to them.”
Mr. Jekielek: We both have had some education in biology in our lives. That’s what I’ve learned on your side. How do you perceive the current situation? For example, is there some kind of environmental crisis? I’m not just talking about climate. Is there biodiversity pollution? There’s a whole series of realms where there are issues being described when it comes to the environment. How do you see this?
Gov. Ricketts: Conservation is a good thing. Our farmers and ranchers were the original conservationists, because they wanted to pass on the family farm or ranch to the next generation. So they took care of the land and their animals; they could do that. And in fact, Nebraska’s, according to US News and World Report, Nebraska has the sixth best natural environment of any state in the country.
Our beef producers for example have worked, along with other national beef producers, to be able to increase production of beef by 66 percent. since the 1960s, while reducing their carbon footprint by 40 percent. Our Ogallala Aquifer, which is what underlies our status.
We are the largest irrigated state in the country, and we tap into the Ogallala Aquifer to do that. But we put a system of water management in place 50 years ago to do that. And so our Ogallala Aquifer is within one foot of where it was in the 1950s.
We here in Nebraska do a good job of promoting conservation and taking care of the land. Nobody cares more about it than we do. We don’t need the federal government to come in here and apply a one-size-fit-all answer to how we can continue to practice good conservation, because we’re already doing it here in Nebraska. So, conservation is a good thing.
What they’re talking about, this 30 by 30 plan, would be devastating to our small towns and rural communities. In fact, that’s part of the problem with this is people in urban areas who are the primary ones proposing this are not gonna pay the price. Our rural folks will pay the price for this.
Because if you were to take, again, Nebraska being 97 percent privately owned, and you set 30 percent of that into conservation, and restrict it say from agricultural use. Now you’ve taken away 30 percent of the land that was helping to pay property taxes that support schools and roads and all those other things the property taxes pay for.
That means everybody else’s property taxes are gonna have to go up because you’ve taken that much land off the tax rolls. And then the land that’s remaining for agricultural purposes will cost more because there’s, it’s just the law of supply and demand. Right.
If you’ve got a good one and you’ve got less of it, the price goes up. So land will go up, which will also drive up property taxes. And that will also make the farmers and ranchers have more pressure as far as production for the crops we grow or the animals we raise, and that will ultimately drive up the cost of food.
So there’s all sorts of consequences the Biden administration either hasn’t considered, or isn’t willing to talk about with this big proposal to do 30 percent of the land in the United States into conservation.
And again, we’re talking about enough land to fill up nine states of Nebraska. It’s a huge amount of land they’re talking about. And for states like Nebraska, and all the states in the Midwest, this is gonna be a huge issue for small towns and rural communities.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay so you have described it as a land grab. You’re also saying that it’s not entirely clear what exactly they’re gonna do.
Gov. Ricketts: Right. So to me, it gets back to the land grab thing. Look through voluntary programs, you’re not gonna get to 30 percent. So how are you gonna get to 30 percent? You’re not telling us. That has to be a land grab to get there. Because I can tell you, our farmers and ranchers are not going to want to voluntarily turn over 30 percent of their land. So how are you gonna get there?
They haven’t even defined basic terms, like what does conservation actually mean? What do you mean by conservation? How much are you gonna restrict the land if it’s in conservation? Even basic things like that, they’re not telling us. And that’s why we’re so concerned. We want the Biden administration to be transparent.
I’ve worked with 14 of my fellow governors to send a letter to President Biden asking for more information and reminding him he doesn’t have the constitutional authority. We’ve not heard back, though they have published the America the Beautiful plan. It doesn’t have any more details other than saying they wanna work voluntarily and locally.
But as I’ve described, if you do the math, there’s just no way for them to get 30 percent over the next nine years to reach their goal with the current programs that are in place.
Mr. Jekielek: This is interesting because there’s also this kind of philosophical question; you addressed this a little bit already. Are these things that should be decided federally or are these things that should be decided at the state level.
Gov. Ricketts: Well, certainly, I think you can point to Nebraska and say what a great job we’ve done in conservation here in Nebraska. And again, I don’t think conservation is a bad word. It’s not. This program is so onerous for the cost of it is so onerous for our folks in rural communities.
I don’t think the Biden administration really understands what they proposed. This is kind of a consistent theme that, at least from my perspective, the Biden administration doesn’t really seem to understand what life in the Midwest is like.
He demonstrated that when he was talking in one of his first speeches where he’s talking about the pandemic. He hoped that we could gather in small groups at the 4th of July this year. Well, we were doing that last year, Mr. President.
He said we hope that schools can be fully in-person, in classrooms. I’m like, yeah, we were doing that last year too. It would be nice if the Biden administration would get out of their little bubble in DC and come see what’s going on out here in the Midwest, and see what life is like here so that they can understand some of the implications of their policy that they’re trying to enforce.
Mr. Jekielek: You’ve also mentioned a little bit earlier that there’s this what sounded like an obvious cost to Nebraskans. And that’s presumably based on the only way that you see this could play out. What is the cost?
Gov. Ricketts: Well, the cost is, if you take away 30 percent of our land that’s mostly being used for agricultural purposes right now, you’re taking away the ability for people’s livelihood. You’re gonna drive up property taxes on everybody. You’re gonna make it more difficult for young farmers and ranchers to get into the business.
It’s already very difficult because of the high costs of getting into agriculture. When you think about owning land and the equipment and all that. It’s very difficult for young people to get in already, so it’s gonna drive all those costs up. And ultimately then, what you do is you drive up the cost of food.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, that’s kind of my other question actually. Because presumably this is a major program to address I guess what is described as a kind of environmental crisis—to help provide solutions to that. I think it’s the twinned crises of climate change and biodiversity loss that it seeks to counteract I guess.
Gov. Ricketts: Yeah. Again one of the things with regard to [this] is to talk about biodiversity. Where they’re pulling from that is not scientific—it’s a Center for American Progress report from August of 2019.
And they hired somebody to put together a model to say, there’s gonna be a million species going extinct in the coming decades. No timeline. 1/3 the wildlife in the United States, and that we’re losing a football field of land in the United States every 30 seconds.
There’s so much wrong with that. First of all, models are subject to whatever assumptions you put in. And trust me, after fighting this pandemic, I know how wrong models can be. We all do; around the world. We saw some of the models and how wrong they were. So we know models are subject to assumptions.
And with regard to some of the other things, if you actually do the math on that football field-worth of land every 30 seconds by 2030, that comes out to about 11 million acres. Well, if you’re worried about 11 million acres, why are you trying to grab 440 million acres? See, again, the math on this just doesn’t work out.
The way they talk about these things, they put up all these nice platitudes. Things that everybody would wanna do. Of course we wanna conserve. But then you actually dig into it and you do the math, and you’re like, this math doesn’t work.
Mr. Jekielek: You’re obviously an advocate for small government. Are you concerned this is an expansion of government?
Gov. Ricketts: Well, I expect that that’s one of the ways that they’re gonna actually try to do this, is through trying to expand their authority; to put more regulations on private property owners to reduce and restrict their rights. We saw this under the Obama administration.
The Obama administration through the U.S. tried to expand their authority unlawfully. And Nebraska was one of the states that took them to court successfully. Got an injunction against the rules being put in place. That means a judge believes you’re gonna be right if you get an injunction.
And ultimately, the rule was withdrawn out of the Trump administration and rewritten so it would remain lawful. So we’re gonna be continuing to watch the Biden administration. If they try to do things unlawful, we will take them back to court. And again, we’re asking. At this point we’re just asking for more information and we’re getting very little.
Mr. Jekielek: And what are your constituents telling you about this? What’s the general public saying?
Gov. Ricketts: Well, I’m, again, spending most of my time in rural communities because that’s who’s gonna be mostly impacted. And overwhelmingly they oppose this because they understand, because they live in these communities, what it would mean to undermine the property tax base, to make it harder for young people to get into agriculture.
They already know it’s hard for all of these things. And in fact, when we’ve been doing our town halls in some very small communities, we haven’t had less than 100 people show up because people are concerned about this. They wanna find out more.
Narration: So, what have local Nebraskans been saying at these town halls? We decided to go to one to find out.
Speaker1: First of all, thanks for coming down and having this meeting and informing us. But the most important question is what is this going to do to the food chain in the United States of America? How much production of food and milk and meat are we gonna lose if we do this thing, if they get it done? Has anybody started counting these numbers yet?
Gov. Ricketts: Yeah, so to my knowledge, nobody has done a calculation that if you restricted 30 percent of the land in the United States, what impact it would make on food. And again, without more details from the Biden ministration, you couldn’t accurately do that. But that’s one of the reasons we’re asking.
Because you can imagine, if 30 percent of that land went to 30 percent, 30 percent of Nebraska was all agricultural land, that means that land prices on the rest of the land is gonna go up. Harder for young people to get into the industry. Property taxes are gonna go up. What does that all mean? Well, it means food prices are gonna go up too. It’s simple economics.
Our founders believed that our private property rights were fundamental through the freedom of our republic. Think about this. What does communism say? The polar opposite of our system. Communism says nobody owns land. It’s all owned by the public. And we can see what is happening with communist regimes around the world.
The millions of people who’ve died trying to have communism implemented on them. That’s why our founders were so firmly in the belief that private property rights were fundamental to our freedoms, and this is how they could be eroded through that regulation.
Narration: Many questions remain about how the 30 by 30 plan will be implemented, but Ricketts seems convinced it won’t be good.
Gov. Ricketts: So when people say, well, why are you concerned about this Biden administration? I’ll give you some examples. So during the Trump administration, there were weekly phone calls with all the nation’s governors; there were 40 of them. Vice President Pence chaired 39 of those calls. And sometimes the calls would go on for a couple of hours as he answered questions from the nation’s governors.
President Trump was on eight of those calls. Since the Biden ministration has been in office, President Biden has been on zero, and Vice President Harris has been on one call for five minutes, and she took no questions.
Now, that shows the difference between what the Biden administration thinks about the nation’s governors, who are responsible for managing emergencies by the way in our system of government, and the Trump administration who understood the governors actually had authority to actually manage emergencies.
So the Biden administration is demonstrating they really don’t care what the states think. Another example is when the Land and Water Conservation Fund got funded under the Trump administration, the Secretary of the Interior signed a secretarial order giving states the ability to veto land purchases by the federal government under that program.
As soon as the Biden administration got into power, they revoked that authority to allow states to veto those land purchases. To me, that doesn’t say somebody who wants to work with me locally and voluntarily. It says somebody that wants to make sure that they’ve got all the controls about what happens.
So, those are just a couple of examples of how the Biden administration is already demonstrating they’re not really interested in what local people think or do. They are planning a top-down strategy.
Narration: Ricketts has been an outspoken critic of the 30 by 30 plan, but there’s another issue big on his radar, China. Coming in a few weeks, a special American Thought Leaders episode.
Gov. Ricketts: I was on a trade mission in China. Some very disturbing things happened. Members of our delegation were being followed, and actually one of them had their hotel room broken into and a disc drive stolen.
Mr. Jekielek: Once eager for closer ties to China, he’s now a scathing critic of the Chinese Communist Party.
Gov. Ricketts: We here in America have to start thinking more long range, like the CCP is thinking.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been updated with a response from the Interior Department.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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