As the New Year begins, I wanted to use this edition of “Inside the Beltway” to share some successes that RLI had in 2017.
Of, course these victories would not have been possible without the hard work and active engagement of RLI Members with their members of Congress through phone calls, emails, or in-district meetings. These activities make a difference and these five victories are a testament to their civic participation and perseverance.
Greater Awareness on the Value of 1031
As the battle for tax reform and the possible reform or elimination of 1031s heated up in 2017, RLI members became the trusted source of information for Members of Congress and their staff for data on how 1031s add value to the economy. Turnover in Congress among Members and staff is constant and RLI members did an outstanding job communicating with Congressional offices about how 1031s add value to real estate in their district. While 1031s for real estate are safe as I write this column in November, 2017, it is critical that RLI members continue to reach out to Members of Congress and staff to make sure their voices are heard and 1031s are preserved.
The WOTUS Rule is Rolled Back
The Obama Administration finalized the Clean Water Rule (AKA the Waters of the U.S. Rule) in 2015. Although the WOTUS rule was never implemented, due to a judicial stay, the damage of this rule would have been far-reaching. This vastly overreaching rule would have hindered economic development in rural and urban areas, tied up farmers, ranchers, and others who work the land in rolls and rolls of red tape and bureaucracy, and would have done unfathomable harm to property rights across the country. RLI and a broad coalition of regulated stakeholders were instrumental in raising alarms about the damage this rule could do to the country’s economy. As a result, one of the first Executive Orders President Trump signed began the process for withdrawing this rule and developing a common-sense and workable definition of “Waters of the U.S.”, one that will provide the clarity needed to encourage economic development and protect our critical water resources.
Drones Take to the Sky
The first call I ever received about using drones for real estate was in 2010 from Florida RLI Member Dean Saunders, ALC, who asked me the seemingly innocent question: “Can I use a drone to take pictures of some land I am selling?” At that time, after doing a little digging on the FAA website, I determined the answer was, unfortunately for Dean, “No.” The drone landscape has changed dramatically since then. Because of consumer desire and market need for innovative technology, RLI Members pushed the FAA to allow the use of drones for commercial purposes. FAA regulations, which were finalized in late 2016, were then implemented and enforced in 2017, unleashing a torrent of market creativity. Now, drones are a regular part of the American “airscape” partly because of RLI Members insistence that this technology can be used safely and can be an important part of selling land, thereby adding value to the real estate economy.
Reforms of the ESA Continue
There was good news on Sage Grouse as well as broader reform of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). While the Obama Administration decided to not list the Sage Grouse as endangered, they did withdraw 10 million acres of public land from being used for any economic activity such as mining or timbering, claiming this land was critical habitat for the Sage Grouse. In July, President Trump reversed this withdrawal through executive order.
On the broader issue of ESA reform, Congress has — for the first time in several years — moved forward with several bills that would enhance transparency, accountability of the ESA and improve the cost/benefit analysis during the listing process. More “rifle shot” legislative reforms are on the way.
The Deregulatory Steamroller Continues
According to the Chamber of Commerce, President Trump has issued 29 executive actions to reduce regulatory requirements. In response, executive-branch agencies have issued 100 additional directives that either knock down regulations or begin a process to eliminate or shrink them.
The chamber’s count also lists almost 50 pieces of legislation that have been introduced or begun moving through Congress. And that count doesn’t include perhaps the most aggressive step the Republican Congress has taken: It has pioneered the use of a little-known 1996 law, the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to repeal executive-branch regulations within 60 days after they are finalized. Using that law, Congress has passed, and Mr. Trump has signed, legislation overturning 14 regulations promulgated by President Obama’s administration in its final days.
While unwinding regulations takes time, these are very consequential actions with huge benefits for the private sector and private development, and I expect these actions to continue.
This article originally appeared in the 2018 Winter Terra Firma Magazine, the official publication of the REALTORS® Land Institute.
About the author: In his position with the National Association of REALTORS®, Russell Riggs serves as the RLI’s Government Affairs Liaison in Washington, D.C., conducting advocacy on a variety of federal issues related to land.