Webb’s Wrap: Does federalism work in a crisis? . . . IPP goes to gas . . . Livermore honored . . . Ever see a utility guy cry?

In today’s pandemic political environment, we’re witnessing dramatic confrontations between levels of government.

Do these battles demonstrate that the federalism model of government is an outmoded failure, because a united, coordinated response cannot be forged to fight COVID-19?

Or, conversely, do these conflicts signal that federalism is alive and well because very diverse, very dissimilar jurisdictions and governments are properly fighting one-size-fits all mandates and centralization that don’t take into account local and regional differences?
One can view the nation’s founders’ notion of federalism as a very poor model to confront a national crisis. A president, for example, who imposes a nationwide mask mandate, or a nationwide lockdown, would encounter fierce opposition from many states and local governments. Some would simply ignore the mandates while others would file lawsuits and petition Congress for relief.

Supporters of blanket federal primacy decry the current “fragmented” approach to fighting the coronavirus.

But defenders of federalism argue that strong opposition to nationwide mandates is expected and proper. The founders intended “ambition to counteract ambition”. The tension between the levels of government is designed to prevent either from gaining too much power, thus preserving freedom for citizens and thwarting tyranny.

Alan Greenblatt, senior staff writer at the respected Governing Magazine, recently wrote an article titled, “America’s Governments Are at War with Each Other.” He cited Pres. Trump’s threats to send in federal authorities if Democratic mayors don’t rein in looting and violence. In response, the mayors have threatened to arrest federal agents.

Trump has threatened to withhold federal funds if school districts don’t open for in-person instruction. He has threatened to withhold funds from “sanctuary cities” and for other reasons.

On the other side, previous presidential administrations have withheld federal funding if states don’t comply with a wide variety of federal environmental and civil rights requirements.

Greenblatt notes that it “seemed shocking when Republican attorneys general banded together a dozen times a year to sue the Obama administration. Now, Democratic attorneys general sue the Trump administration three times as often.”

Personally, I think that federal-state and state-local government tension is healthy and necessary, even in a crisis. States and local governments are bulwarks against federal tyranny. A crisis can’t become an excuse for the federal government to consolidate even more power.

One-size-fits-all federal mandates simply don’t work. I prefer even a somewhat chaotic, fragmented approach to national crises to a federal government that runs roughshod over state and local governments and does not take into account local and regional differences.

Interim day on WebEx. A full lineup of interesting interim committee meetings are scheduled today – and you don’t have to drive to the Capitol to attend. Check out agendas by going to the Legislature’s home page and click on Calendar. Transportation, Judiciary, Rev & Tax, Health & Human Services, Political Subdivisions, and Education all meet today.

Learned in a Zoom meeting. The venerable Intermountain Power Plant near Delta will cease burning coal by July 2025. It will be turned into a natural gas plant generating 840 megawatts of electricity (less than half its current capacity of 1,900 MW). Natural gas will be much cleaner than coal, but will still produce carbon emissions. However, the long-term plan is for the plant to become completely carbon-free by 2045, when it will be converted to burn “clean hydrogen.” Hydrogen will be produced using solar, wind and geothermal resources, rather than fossil fuels. Thus, the electricity generated will be completely carbon-free.

Wow! 40 years at The Nature Conservancy. Dave Livermore, Utah state director for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), was praised, honored and embarrassed on a Zoom party Tuesday with staff, board members and friends on his 40th anniversary with TNC. Livermore is one of TNC’s longest-serving staffers anywhere in the nation or world. He has overseen hundreds of conservation projects, helped raise more than $215 million for those projects, and has helped protect more than 1 million acres in Utah alone.

Livermore was feted as “shameless, goofy and eloquent”, famous for donning giant bird suits and his “groan-worthy” jokes. Among projects he has championed:  Matheson wetlands, desert tortoise preserve, Strawberry River, Dugout Ranch, Book Cliff ranches, Utah Lake shoreline, Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve, Selman Ranch, Virgin River flow collaboration, White Dome Nature Preserve, Canyonlands Research Center, and many more.

I’ve served on the local TNC board, and I think it’s terrific because it’s a conservation group that works with all stakeholders, including agriculture and industry, and looks for win-win solutions for nature, people and the economy.

Parting shot. If you want to see a tough, old utility guy get emotional, just watch him when he suffers a major catastrophe that overwhelms his small agency, and then he sees a line of utility trucks and linesmen from other small cities pull up to help. I heard a number of power directors express their thanks and emotions on a call Tuesday among members of the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. When the windstorm hit last week, “mutual aid” came quickly from peer communities. Otherwise, some customers would still be without power.

If you have a comment, an item you think should be publicized, or just want to tell me I’m an idiot, shoot me a message at [email protected].