At White House podium, Fairbanks business owner decries ‘arbitrary’ wetlands enforcement

Fairbanks business owner Richard Schok spoke at the White House Wednesday. (C-SPAN)

President Trump on Wednesday turned his White House microphone over to Alaska business owner Richard Schok to highlight what he says is unfair government regulation.

Schok runs Flowline, a Fairbanks pipe manufacturer. As Schok explained in a press conference in the Roosevelt Room, his family bought land to expand, but it included  permafrost.

“We’ve spent the better part of 10 years and over $300,000 fighting with the regulatory agencies over the arbitrary and capricious nature of the Army Corps of Engineers wetland designation,” Schok said.

His story is laid out in a lawsuit. Here’s a short version: In 2004, Schok and his family got a federal permit to excavate and fill their land in North Pole, but the project was delayed. When they reapplied in 2008, the government was using new guidelines ⁠— or “agency guidance” as it’s called ⁠— to determine when permafrost must be protected as wetlands. The Corps issued a new permit, but with conditions Flowline considered oppressive. The company sued and lost, then lost its appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

At the end of the press conference, Trump signed executive orders to limit the use of “agency guidance” in regulatory enforcement. Trump sees himself as one of its victims.

“Guidance has frequently been used to subject U.S. citizens and business to arbitrary and sometimes abusive enforcement actions — Huh,” Trump said, breaking away from his written speech. “It sounds like they’re talking about me. I think they’re talking about me.” 

It was the concept of unfair enforcement Trump seemed to be identifying with, since federal “agency guidance” isn’t driving the most serious legal challenges he faces.

Defenders of “agency guidance” say it can consist of brochures or memos that help the public by clarifying how an agency operates.