President Joe Biden’s proposed plan to conserve 30% of America’s land by 2030 lacks needed details, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts says.

The Biden administration has not provided details on how it intends to accomplish the goal, but enough is known about Biden’s “30 by 30” conservation initiative to know that it won’t serve the best interests of the American people, the Republican governor says. 

“Right now, 97% of Nebraska is privately owned, and if you wanted to set aside 30% of this in conservation, you would drive up land prices [and] make it more difficult for young people to get into production agriculture,” Ricketts said. “You would certainly drive up food prices, [and] you’d drive up property taxes.”

Ricketts joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the implications of Biden’s “30 by 30” initiative.

The governor also discusses disturbing sex education standards proposed by the Nebraska Department of Education and what parents can do to push back on leftist policies being implemented in their children’s schools. 

We also cover these stories:

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House of Representatives won’t vote on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill until the Senate votes on a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. 
  • Chinese officials reject a plan from the World Health Organization for a second phase of a probe into the origin of COVID-19 that would include the possibility that the coronavirus escaped from a research lab in Wuhan, China.
  • An Illinois teacher files a lawsuit against her former employer for firing her after she criticized rioting and looting in Chicago last summer following the death of George Floyd. 

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

Virginia Allen: I am so pleased to welcome to the show Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts. Governor, thank you so much for being here.

Gov. Pete Ricketts:
It’s my pleasure. Thank you very much for having me on.

Allen: Well, this week we have been observing Captive Nations Week all across America. President [Dwight D.] Eisenhower issued the first Captive Nations Week proclamation in 1959 declaring that the third week of July was a time to advocate for the freedom of those living under communism. And this July, you declared that the month of July would be a dedicated time to remember those victims of communism. And specifically, that July would be Victims of Communism Remembrance Month. Talk a little bit about why you made that decision and why you felt it was important to do so.

Yeah, absolutely. So, the Chinese Communist Party is observing their 100th anniversary, and I knew they’d be talking a lot about the things that the Chinese Communist Party wants to accomplish or claim credit for things that they’ve done. And I thought it was important to remind people that more people have died because of the imposition of communism in the 20th century than both World War I and World War II combined, that communism is a philosophy that really strips one of individual rights.

It of course promises emancipation, but really it just puts people into slavery by taking away your rights, whether it’s property rights or the right to determine your government, you’re really devaluing people.

It’s just the complete opposite, the whole opposite, of what we believe here in America. Where we believe that our government was instituted to protect our rights and we uphold the dignity of the individual and we really cherish those freedoms that we have and that’s why we have a government.

So, it’s a time to remember the victims of communism: 65 million people that died in China, 20 million in the Soviet Union, 2 million in North Korea, 2 million in Cambodia. And of course, today, the headlines we see of what’s going on in Cuba with regards to the protest in the streets there, 150,000 people died with imposition of communism in Cuba as well.

We see the human cost with the imposition of communism, and we need to remind people about that. And it’s also a time to reflect upon the great tradition we have here in America of protecting our freedoms and why our Constitution actually is instituted to protect our freedoms.

That was certainly the intent of the Founders, that our rights come to us from God, not from the government, and that governments are implemented to protect our rights that come to us from God.

It’s, again, just the opposite, where you have a communist regime, they think they own all the rights and they can divvy those out in meager portions as they see fit. So it really is a stark contrast between the way we run our country here and how communist nations run their countries.

Allen: We certainly appreciate you taking that stand in Nebraska. It’s so, so critical to be talking about what is happening in communist nations across the world. As you mentioned, Cuba, we’re watching very, very closely, obviously supporting those calling for freedom, calling for democracy. But I want to take a few minutes to dive into some of the issues that you all are facing in Nebraska.

Here at The Daily Signal, we have been covering extensively what is happening in public schools across America. We’re seeing the left push a very, very radical agenda in many of our schools. And in Nebraska, you all are facing your State Board of Education promoting a new sex education policy. Talk a little bit about this and why it concerns you.

Ricketts: Yeah. The Department of Education in Nebraska does not report to me. They are run by a separately elected board of eight individuals elected from across our state by district. And one of the things the State Board of Education has done as well as the Department of Education is they put out these new sex ed standards.

These standards are very disturbing. They are age-inappropriate. They’re teaching nonscientific concepts. In some cases, they’re teaching things that actually aren’t even true. And some topics really need to be handled by parents working with their children directly.

So what I’ve been doing is going around the state with town halls to really inform parents of what is in these standards and encourage them to read the standards for themselves, and then reach out to the State Board of Education. Because the state board, as I mentioned, doesn’t report to me, they’re not accountable to me there, but they are accountable to voters. And that’s what I’m encouraging parents to do, is to reach out to the State Board of Education and the Nebraska Department of Education about the sex ed standards.

A couple of things that go along with this is that this idea of comprehensive sex education actually goes back or has its founding in the abortion movement. It was Dr. Mary Calderone, who is the medical director for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, that formed a group called SIECUS, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, to push this concept of comprehensive sex education.

That is how it got into our curriculum. Somebody along the line took these comprehensive sex ed standards from SIECUS, which just recently got updated, and put them into our sex ed standards that the Nebraska Department of Education was going to be pushing.

So it’s really being lifted from these advocates, it’s not coming from parents, it’s coming from advocates as a national effort. And that’s one of the things we want people to know, that the sex ed standards are really coming from outside advocacy groups, not being driven by parents.

And my position is that this should be handled by local school boards and superintendents working in junction with parents to determine what that sex education curriculum is. And really focusing on the science of biological reproduction and not getting into these other topics that are nonscientific. That really will require parents to get involved to change the State Board of Education’s position on where they’re going with this.

So, that’s what we’ve been talking about. Again, I’m happy to go into more detail on the different aspects of this, but that at the high level is what we’re trying to do, is get parents motivated, because the parents’ voice has not been heard and needs to be heard.

Allen: If you would, share a little bit more specifically about what this would change in the classroom and then also, where does this proposal stand right now? Does it look like parents are going to be successful at pushing back, or is this going to be something that is in all likelihood probably implemented?

Well, another important thing to note, actually, is that the State Board of Education has no requirement to do this. In fact, the Legislature over the last decade twice has declined to require the Nebraska Department of Education to set sex education standards at all. So they don’t even have to do this.

The standards actually are even more radical than the one SIECUS has put out there. What I mean by that is, they actually put these concepts in at an earlier age. So, for example, in kindergarten they talk about family structures, but they don’t talk about the one that I grew up in, which was a traditional one of a mom and a dad in a heterosexual relationship. Nowhere in these standards is that family structure mentioned. All sorts of other family structures are mentioned, but not that one.

In first grade, they start teaching kids about gender identity. In third grade, sexual orientation. In fourth grade, they actually compare sexual orientation and gender identity, want the fourth graders to be able to talk about that.

They also teach in fourth grade that sex is assigned at birth, which is factually wrong. Your sex is determined the moment of conception, based upon your parents’ DNA. And this is a concept that really says that sex is a social construct, and again, factually inaccurate. So, that’s one of the things going on there.

In fifth grade, they go on to talk about gender identity on a continuum, again, a nonscientific concept of gender identity along a continuum. In sixth grade, they talk about the concepts of transgender, and pangender, and two spirits, and nonbinary, and so forth. And then in seventh grade, and again, remember these are 12-year-olds, [they talk] about anal and oral sex.

And as I’ve talked to, for example, one pediatrician told me this is Grooming 101. These standards are actually sexualizing our children.

And again, what I’m encouraging parents to do is just read these standards. You’ll be shocked at what is in there. And then you have to call on the State Board of Education to scrap the standards. There is no fixing these standards, this just has to be dropped entirely.

The process is that parents have been showing up by the hundreds to the meetings over the last several months. These standards were announced in March, and in the meetings, the State Board of Education has had hundreds of parents [show] up to oppose these standards. And then I believe thousands have commented directly to the State Board of Education or the Nebraska Department of Education via email, phone, letter, that sort of thing.

My understanding is that the Department of Education is going to come out with another draft and they have another meeting set for Aug. 6 at 9 a.m. in Lincoln, as a part of the regular scheduled meetings. And so that new draft may be out before that Aug. 6 meeting, so that will be another opportunity for parents to be able to weigh in on the next draft of the standards.

So I think we’ve still got more work to do to get the State Board of Education to scrap this. We’re waiting to see what they’re coming out [with] in their second draft, so we just don’t know where this is going to be going. But their original plan was to get these finalized in this fall, the fall of ’21, for the imposition on school districts in the fall of the next school year. So that’s what we’re trying to block, is to make sure that this doesn’t come out and isn’t implemented in the next school year.

Allen: I think it’s so encouraging to hear that parents are showing up to those town hall events and learning what is actually in this curriculum. I’ve spoken with so many different parents here on this podcast and for written stories for The Daily Signal, and so often there’s just a lack of awareness of what is actually going on. And that’s not the parents’ fault, it’s just lives are busy. So it’s so critical to be putting that information in front of parents and letting them know, “Hey, this is what’s going on in your child’s classroom, and you have a voice and you can stand up and say something.” So thank you for the work that you’re doing on that.

That’s a great point. It’s actually one of the things in my town halls that I encourage parents to do, is not only read the standards and reach out to the State Board of Education, but reach out to your local school board, your local superintendents, talk to them about how they feel about it. And also just ask what is the curriculum that’s currently being taught.

Again, parents have the right to know. And in fact, Nebraska is actually related to a U.S. Supreme Court decision back in 1923 that basically affirmed that parents are the primary educators of their children and have the right to direct their education in the way they see fit.

Allen: Absolutely. Well, let’s switch gears for just one moment. I know you’ve also been hosting town hall events across Nebraska on the subject of conservation. And this is a subject that is, of course, very, very personal to Nebraska, this plays a large role in your state.

President Joe Biden, he has proposed what he’s calling the “30 by 30” plan, which aims to conserve at least 30% of our land and waters by the year 2030. Now, conservation is something that we all agree should take place. It’s just, there’s obviously differences in agreement about how we should go about that.

So explain a little bit about what President Biden’s 30 by 30 plan would do and specifically how it would impact the people of Nebraska.

First of all, I think it’s important to know that this is not President Biden’s idea, this was not his plan. He actually is adopting it from radical environmental groups. And in fact, the whole concept starts back in 1992 with the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, where they encourage nations to set aside 17% of their land to conservation by the year 2020.

When they were defining it at that time, they were talking about “permanently protected in its natural state,” which means no human development, no human use. And that was updated recently to get to that 30% goal we talked about by the year 2030. And it was also repeated in a paper by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning group, where they argued it should be 30% as well.

Frankly, there’s not science behind that 30%, and even the Center for American Progress report will admit that science alone, the numbers don’t just drive everything. But it really is something that if you look at the state of Nebraska, if we pursued this policy, it would be devastating to our small towns and rural communities.

Right now, 97% of Nebraska is privately owned, and if you wanted to set aside 30% of this in conservation, you would drive up land prices, make it more difficult for young people to get into production agriculture. You would certainly drive up food prices, you’d drive up property taxes. There’s all sorts of consequences for trying to set aside this land into conservation.

And what President Biden did is he put this in just a two-paragraph effort in his Executive Order 14008, which I think was 57 pages long or something like that, where he directed the Department of the Interior to come up with a plan for how to achieve 30 by 30 and how to measure it.

It’s also important to note that Kamala Harris, when she was a senator, introduced a Senate resolution along these lines, Senate Resolution 372. And Deb Haaland, when she was in the U.S. House, did the same thing, she introduced House Resolution 835. Both of those called upon the U.S. to put 30% of the land into conservation by the year 2030.

Obviously, Kamala Harris is now our vice president, Deb Haaland is the interior secretary. So these are people in very powerful positions that are pushing this agenda from these radical environmental groups.

One of the big concerns we have with this is that the administration is giving us no information. They tried to rebrand 30 by 30 as “America the Beautiful.” About the only thing that we learned out of that document was very high level full of platitudes about how they want to work voluntarily with farmers and ranchers and so forth.

They did say they’re getting away from this idea of permanently protecting the natural state to conservation, but they won’t define what conservation means. If you’re not going to define conservation, how do you know if we’re going to get to 30%?

Here’s another important thing about this, according to their own document, U.S. Geological Survey says about 12% of the United States is actually in that state of conservation. And to get to 30%, you’d have to add on 440 million acres, you’d have to go from like about 289 million acres, and these are actually National Geographic’s numbers, 289 million acres to 729 million acres, or an increase of 440 million acres.

That’s a landmass the size of Nebraska nine times over. So a land mass the size of Nebraska this year and every year for the next nine years. Or another way to think about it, as two states of Texas. So it’s a huge amount of land. And again, that’s why as we think about this, this could be so devastating to our small towns and rural communities and why we want more information.

In fact, I led 15 governors writing a letter to President Biden asking for more information, reminding him that he doesn’t have the constitutional authority to just do this unilaterally, and ask how he plans to implement this. So far we’ve not received a response back and about the only thing we have is this America the Beautiful plan, which, as I said, really is very short on details.

Secretary [Tom] Vilsack, our [agriculture] secretary, has said they’re going to do the same voluntary conservation programs they’ve done in the past. But if that’s true, they’re never going to reach 30%.

So that’s why we’re asking these questions, because, based upon what they’ve said so far, either they’re not going to make 30%—there’s no reason to think that the same voluntary programs we’ve had for decades that has gotten us 12% is going to get us to 30% in the next nine years, that math just doesn’t work—or they’re not telling us everything about how they’re going to accomplish 30%.

That’s the question we’re asking, “How are you going to accomplish this? The way we’re doing it right now will not reach 30%, so clearly you’re either going to fail in your goal or you’re not telling us everything.”

Allen: Does land need to be owned and run by the federal government in order to be sorted well, or is that something that should be taking place more on state and local levels?

Our farmers and ranchers were the original conservationists and our farmers and ranchers take care of their land so they can pass it onto the next generation. In fact, 95% of our farms and ranches are family-owned, many of them multigeneration.

And so, our farmers and ranchers are doing true conservation. They’re improving the land so that they can pass it onto the next generation. And that is, to me, being effective.

Actually, that’s a great point about, “Does it need to be done by the federal government?” I would ask the federal government, “Show us you’re actually doing a good job.” Because we can see examples like in California where the land management has been tied up with radical environmental groups, and then one of the results is some of the fires that we’ve seen there because underbrush is not allowed to be cleared out so it creates conditions that are right for these types of fires.

So those are the kinds of things where we’ve got to ask the question, “Well, is the federal government really the best person to take care of it?”

It’s not clear that the federal government has a great track record, whereas our farmers and ranchers have successfully passed down their farms and ranches for generations, always improving the land, certainly using it, but also making sure that it was able to continue to sustain that production agriculture for the next generation and actually doing it in a better way.

I’ll give you an example. Here in the state, we have a system of water management for the Ogallala Aquifer and all of our water resources, but specifically with regards to the Ogallala Aquifer. Because of our state system of water management, the Ogallala Aquifer is within 1 foot of where it was in the 1950s, despite the fact that Nebraska is the largest irrigated state in the country. We have more irrigated acres than any other state, including California.

And so, that’s an example of how people at the local level are going to do a better job than the federal government, and we did that without the federal government telling us we had to do that.

Allen: So what is the next step here? We obviously, like you say, we still don’t know a lot about this 30 by 30 plan. Do we just wait and find out from the Biden administration? Are there steps that we can be taking?

Certainly one of the things I’m doing is educating people about what kind of steps they can take. We don’t know a lot of information, but what we do want people to know is if they’re signing conservation easements, for example, to make sure they’re reading those agreements. If it’s an easement and they don’t limit the term of years, it’s permanent, it’s forever under Nebraska law.

Also, counties have the ability to reject or deny those easements if they set up a structure like a conference of land use plan to objectively judge whether or not that easement is in conflict with their plan or not. So we’re educating county boards on that. We’re asking counties to pass resolutions, opposing 30 by 30 to send a grassroots message to the Biden administration of our opposition, but also to raise awareness and support of any future legislation that may happen here in Nebraska.

So, that’s a potential thing that people can take steps to do.

Also, I’ve talked to folks who see their conservation reserve programs have come up for renewal. And so, what they’ve done, the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] has put in additional restrictive environmental language in there. So we’re asking people to read those agreements and don’t sign up for anything you don’t want to do. That’s another example.

And of course, we want people to support their federal delegation, Congresswoman [Lauren] Boebert from Colorado has a 30 by 30 termination plan in the House, there’s a similar bill in the U.S. Senate. So we want people to sign onto that termination plan to block any effort by the administration to go through the House or the Senate.

But one of my big fears is they’re going to try and do it through regulation. And that’s why we’re really asking people to stay engaged and let us know if they see any examples of this expansion of regulation, to let us know so we can fight it.

And one example might be the “waters of the U.S.” rule, which the Obama [Environmental Protection Agency] tried to expand the definition of waterways that they could regulate unlawfully and we took them to court. It stopped that, in fact, got an injunction until the Trump administration came in and rewrote the rule in a lawful way.

And I understand now that the EPA is looking at rewriting that waters of the U.S. rule again, opening it back up. So if they try and do something unlawful, we will take them to court and stop it again.

There’s a number of different things that we’ve got to be doing. This is something that we’re in it for the long haul. As long as this administration is in place, we can expect radical environmental groups to hold sway, and that’s why we have to be there to stop it. We cannot wait until something has happened, because by then it’s too late.

Allen: Governor, thank you for sharing that. I do you want to ask you before we let you go, I personally have not been to the state of Nebraska yet, but it’s on my list, so I have to ask you, what are maybe three of the top places that you think should be on everyone’s list when they visit Nebraska?

Ricketts: We’ve got a very diverse, beautiful state from one end to the other, so you really can kind of pick. Some of the great things to do are to go to our Scotts Bluff National Monument, it’s a beautiful part of the state; to the Pine Ridge in Northwest Nebraska, to be able to take in some of the scenic beauty there; or along our Niobrara River, do a floating trip or tanking.

Actually, Nebraska has more miles of streams and rivers than any state in the country, about 80,000 miles. So doing that tanking, which is getting a big water tank that the cattle drink our of, getting inside that and floating down river, is one of the great pastimes, a way you can see a lot of the great natural beauty.

We also have great events here. In fact, we just hosted the College World Series, the U.S. swim trials, and the U.S. Senior Open. So we got a lot of great events here as well. We’re going to have Garth Brooks at Memorial Stadium entertaining about 90,000 fans here in August. So a lot of great fun events that go on here in the state, as well as the great natural beauty.

Allen: I’ve never heard of tanking, so I’m going to add that to my list. That sounds really fun.

It is, it’s a ton of fun.

Allen: Governor, thank you so much for joining. We really appreciate your time today.

Great, thank you very much for having me on.

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