While President Trump and Congress tackle federal regulations and the agencies that promulgate them, Fred Kelly Grant is quietly doing the same — and succeeding — with the most powerful weapon you’ve likely never heard of.
It’s called “coordination” — tucked into the National Environmental Policy Act by Congress in 1976, the provision requires federal agencies to coordinate with local officials before implementing new rules, so the intentions and expectations are consistent at every level of government.
“Local policy and local plans are what drive the economy,” Mr. Grant said. “Under the coordination law, the agency doesn’t just come to the table and talk and walk away. They have to try to reach consistency with local government. That’s the key to it and that’s why it works, and every other process doesn’t.”
Not even Mr. Trump can make a difference without local help, according to Mr. Grant.
“Anybody that thinks the president of the United States drives the economy is living in an Alice in Wonderland world. He doesn’t. He can set the tone, but nothing changes from the top. It all has to change from the bottom,” Mr. Grant said. “And that’s where local government, with coordination, could get the agencies to the table with them and begin to make change.”
Mr. Grant, a longtime attorney who lives in Idaho, discovered the rule in the early 1990s during the Clinton administration’s “Cattle Free by ‘93” campaign to reduce grazing on federal lands. A rancher friend asked him for help in fending off the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) efforts to cut such grazing by 45 percent in southwest Idaho’s Owyhee County.
Considering around 76 percent of the county’s 5 million acres are federally owned and ranching is the primary economic producer, the move would have put more than 100 of the county’s 140 ranchers out of business.
“I said to my friend, ‘If the federal government wants you off their land, you’re going to be put off. There’s nothing I can do.’ “
Mr. Grant heard about coordination at a conference on property rights, and looked it up.
“I didn’t know about it. I worked for two governors and I had never come across it,” Mr. Grant recalled. “As I read it, I thought, ‘This can’t be. Congress didn’t leave this loophole.’ And the more I read, the more I realized it was not a loophole. It was intended and had been used successfully by counties four times in the past.”
The BLM had never coordinated with county officials as required by federal law. So Mr. Grant told the ranchers that with the statute, he could hold the feds at bay for two years — long enough for the BLM to find another way to get cattle off federal land.
Mr. Grant was wrong.
“The ranchers are still there, they’re still raising livestock, they’re still all in business and we beat the BLM,” he said. “We got rid of six different district managers because they broke the law. We got rid of two state directors because they broke the law, and today managers of the BLM drive 140 miles round trip once a month to sit down and meet with three county commissioners of Owyhee County, Idaho.”
Since then, Mr. Grant has used coordination to beat back not only the BLM, but the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Departments of Interior, Agriculture and Homeland Security, and the Army Corps of Engineers.
He has also worked with the Americans Stewards of Liberty, which trains local governments in the coordination process, helped persuade the American Legislative Exchange Council to adopt a model coordination ordinance for local governments, and launched the Stand up and Fight Club, which aims to restore and protect the rights of rural Americans.
Now, he’s taking on the Food and Drug Administration.
With Mr. Grant’s help, the village of Hartland, Wis., is using the coordination statute to fight the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 2016 tobacco rule that deems liquid nicotine products such as e-cigarettes as tobacco products. The rule includes an expensive premarket approval process, which the vaping and e-cigarette industry says will wipe out 99 percent of the nation’s businesses.
Given that one of the town’s biggest economic drivers is a vaping shop, the village adopted a resolution calling for coordination with the FDA on the development and implementation of the rule.
At 83, Mr. Grant has no plans to slow down.
“Not as long as I can stand and walk and talk. I’m tempted all the time to retire,” he said. “But I truly believe in this nation and I think there are too few people who understand and believe in the core principle of the federal republic, and if we lose that, I believe we lose what makes the Constitution the most perfect instrument of government that’s ever been created.”
By using the federal government’s statute to fight its own agencies to protect private property and enterprise, Fred Kelly Grant is an unsung hero.
• Kathy Hoekstra is the national regulatory reporter for Watchdog.org.