Committee on Natural Resources

Doc Hastings

Hastings’ Water Storage Legislation Needed to Combat Western Water Supply Issues by Facilitating More Surface Water Storage

2014/09/10

Today, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a legislative hearing on H.R. 5412, the Bureau of Reclamation Surface Water Storage Streamlining Act.  The legislation, introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA 04), streamlines the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental planning and study process for new surface water storage projects in order to help facilitate the construction of new or expanded dams and reservoirs. The bill mirrors the process that was applied to the Corps of Engineers in the recently enacted Water Resources Development Act by setting the same standards and expectations for the Bureau of Reclamation to become more transparent and accountable in how it operates.  

Multi-purpose dams and reservoirs can generate affordable emission-free electricity; store water suppliers for farmers, ranchers and municipalities; tame ravaging floods; provide recreational opportunities; and provide year-round cold water flows for fisheries.  The Bureau of Reclamation Surface Water Storage Streamlining Act will facilitate the construction of new dams and reservoirs throughout the Western United States and will add much needed water storage, reform the cumbersome and lengthy permitting process, and create renewable energy.

It is painfully clear, given the Bureau of Reclamation’s inaction on storage in California, that the agency’s feasibility study process needs to be modernized in a productive way,” said Chairman Doc Hastings. “For this reason, I’ve introduced the Bureau of Reclamation Surface Water Storage Streamlining Act.   It’s a common sense bill based on the precedent of the newly enacted Water Resources Reform and Development Act, or WRDA, that only four Members of this House opposed.”

Water conservation is critically important in managing a temporary shortage – but it does nothing to add supply.  What we are now discovering is that by exhausting conservation measures in wet years, we have no latitude to manage a drought when it comes.  If this current crisis teaches us anything, it must be that there is no substitute for adding supply, and this bill – and others recently heard by the subcommittee --  begin to restore this process for a new generation that is now paying dearly for the mistakes of their predecessors.,” said Subcommittee on Water and Power Chairman Tom McClintock (CA-04).

Witnesses at the hearing testified on the need for a legislative solution and impacts of the proposed Obama Administration regulations, including higher food, water, and electricity costs, undermining of states’ rights; and current and future water supply infrastructure.

Mr. Dan Keppen, Executive Director, Family Farm Alliance, Klamath Falls Oregon, testified that new or expanded water storage is necessary and conservation alone cannot solve the water supply problems currently crippling the west.  “As you are all aware, actually developing new storage projects is much easier said than done. For many reasons – political, economic, and social – the construction of traditional surface storage projects is undertaken on a much more limited basis than in decades past. Even if authorization and funding is secured for a new storage project, the existing procedures for developing additional water supplies can make project approval incredibly burdensome…  Clearly, the existing procedures for developing additional water supplies need to be revised to make project approval less burdensome.”

Mr. Bennett Raley, Attorney for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and representing the National Water Resources Association, Denver, Colorado, testified on the need for storage projects in Colorado and the benefits of legislation to encourage and promote new and existing water storage.  "Northern Water is not alone in working to develop water supply opportunities that are sensitive to environmental needs without triggering the complex, costly and time-consuming process for federal water supply projects. Water providers throughout the West are seeking similar non-federal solutions. However, given the importance and prominence of Reclamation facilities in many regions, a non-federal project approach is not always available, and meeting the needs of the future will likely require that existing federal reclamation projects throughout the West be optimized to allow additional storage or that unused capacity in existing Reclamation projects be made available to provide to better manage available non-federal water resources.”

Mr. Jeffrey Sutton, General Manager, Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority, Willows, California, testified on California’s need for increased water storage projects. “The “Bureau of Reclamation Surface Water Storage Streamlining Act” consists of a number of common sense proposals directed at removing unnecessary bureaucratic impediments to new storage in a manner that would provide additional water supply certainty to the businesses, individuals and wildlife whose wellbeing and, in many cases, survival is inextricably linked to the importance of congressional action to mitigate the adverse impacts of future droughts.”

 

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Hastings: Admin’s Response to Oversight Requests Shameful

2014/09/10

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) delivered the following opening statement at today’s Full Committee oversight hearing entitled The Status of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Responses to Committee Subpoenas and the Continued Lack of Transparency about Its Implementation and Enforcement of American Wildlife Laws, and Oversight of the Department of the Interior’s Solicitor’s Office.

“In regards to oversight, it’s not only Congress’ right but our responsibility to hold the Executive Branch accountable for its actions and decisions.  In turn, we expect the Administration to be honest and transparent.  The reality is just the opposite.  The Obama Administration has consistently engaged in a deliberate pattern of slow-rolling its responses and purposely withholding information from Congress.

Today’s hearing will specifically examine examples of this stonewalling from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Service has failed to comply with two subpoenas for documents.  One related to the Whitebluffs Bladderpod, the second on the Administration’s approach for enforcing wildlife laws, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. 

Despite the issuance of subpoenas, the Department continues to withhold and redact documents.  Even worse, the Department is going out of its way to provide even less information to Congress than it is to others. 

Here are three distinct examples.

In December 2013, the Service provided the Committee copies of about 1,000 pages of documents. These were exact duplicates of what the Service had already provided to the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act.  Some of these documents were redacted while others were released in full to both the AP and the Committee.

One of those FOIA documents was this January 2013 email. Exhibit 1 in your packets. 

 

In March of this year, the Committee issued a subpoena seeking 55 specific unredacted documents and categories of other documents. In response, the Service issued another large document production.  It included the same January 2013 email (Exhibit 2).  Except this time it was redacted in several places, even though an unredacted version had already been provided to the news media and the Committee almost six months earlier.

 

In this second example (Exhibit 4) on the left is a document provided to the AP and the Committee under FOIA. It contains partial redactions.  We issued a subpoena for the unredacted document, and received the document on the right – even more redacted than the first. 

Either the Administration is incompetent or it is going out of its way to expend time and money to withhold information from Congress.

In this third example (Exhibit 5), the document on the left was released to a bird conservation group under FOIA.  Only the bottom part was redacted.  When the Service provided the same document to the Committee in June – almost the entire document was redacted.

In addition, the Service has released documents to this same bird group last year under FOIA that have NEVER been provided to the Committee – even though it was specifically covered in the parameters of the subpoena.

I would like to hear from Director Ashe today how he justifies such a blatant disregard for transparency and disrespect of Congress.  Is this what he means when he talks about being responsive and cooperating with congressional oversight?

The Interior Department has dragged its feet on every oversight issue this Committee has pursued.  It has purposefully sought ways to increase the burden, costs, and delays for responding to the Committee’s legitimate requests. 

Some claim that our requests are costly and burdensome.  However, it’s now evident that the Administration is wasting time and taxpayer dollars by going out of its way to redact documents that have already been released.   Most of their time and resources are spent figuring out which documents to purposely withhold.  Furthermore, oversight and transparency to the American taxpayers should not be considered a burden. 

We’ll also hear from the Department of the Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins.  The Solicitor’s Office is the legal advisor for the Department and decides which documents gets released or withheld from Congress. I intend to find out more today about the Solicitor’s involvement in redacting these documents.

There are other issues pertaining to the Solicitor’s Office that I would like to address.  Yesterday, the Committee released a report on the Department’s ethics program – identifying significant weaknesses.  Also, ahead of tomorrow’s hearing with Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall, I would like to hear the Solicitor discuss the relationship and interaction with the Department’s Office of Inspector General.

The Administration’s response to the Committee’s oversight efforts has been downright shameful.  Their actions are unjustifiable and show blatant disrespect to the transparency they promised the American people.”

Either the Administration is incompetent or it is going out of its way to expend time and money to withhold information from Congress.

In this third example (Exhibit 5), the document on the left was released to a bird conservation group under FOIA.  Only the bottom part was redacted.  When the Service provided the same document to the Committee in June – almost the entire document was redacted."

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Committee Report Identifies Weaknesses in DOI’S Ethics Program

2014/09/09

An investigative report entitled “Ethics Under Review: An Oversight Investigation into the Department of the Interior’s Ethics Program and How Recusals are Managed for Senior Officials” was released today by the House Natural Resources Committee’s majority oversight staff.  The report is the result of more than two years of investigation by Committee staff that identified weaknesses in how the Department of the Interior manages its ethics program, including the timeliness of its review of financial disclosure forms and its advice about recusals to political appointees.

Tomorrow, Department of the Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins will be testifying at a Full Committee oversight hearing.  The Department’s Office of the Solicitor is the chief legal advisor for the entire Department of the Interior and oversees the Department’s Ethics Office.

For decades, under both Democrat and Republican Administrations, there have been problems with the ethics program at the Department of the Interior.  These problems appear to be ongoing and should be directly addressed.  A strong, independent ethics program is necessary to ensure the integrity of the Department’s actions and officials,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04).   

Specifically, the report found:

  • The Department has made improving its ethics program a goal in recent years, but challenges remain in changing a bureaucratic culture to make ethical conduct, accountability, and transparency a priority.
  • There are significant delays in the time period for reviewing financial disclosure forms used to identify potential conflicts of interest. In two examples reviewed, the Department’s ethics officials took more than 400 days to complete their review and approve financial disclosure forms for two senior officials.
  • The Department’s senior ethics official says she was directed not to interact with or provide advice directly to political appointees without receiving management approval.
  • The Department lacks a systematic way of tracking recusals, which increases the potential that officials will be contacted about or become involved in matters they are recused from.

The report also examined two specific ethics cases involving former Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Robert Abbey and Former Counselor to the Secretary Steve Black.

  • Although Abbey was recused from matters involving his former consulting firm, he continued to interact with his a former business partner on both personal matters and official business. The former business partner was often contacted to act as a go between with Abbey and appears to have served as an informal advisor.
  • Black promoted a renewable energy project to the White House involving his girlfriend’s employer and reported his relationship to Department ethics officials only after meeting with a company official and receiving an email discussing her possible transfer from the company’s California office to Washington, D.C.  In the six months between when Black first reported his relationship with a lobbyist for the company and he was advised to recuse himself, he continued to work on specific matters involving the company and meet with senior company officials.

 

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Transparency, Sound Science, & Inclusion of States and Localities Needed in ESA Listing Decisions NOT Federal Edicts Driven by Litigation and Settlement Deadlines

2014/09/09

Today, the House Natural Resources Committee held a Full Committee legislative hearing on six pieces of legislation aimed at updating and improving the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a law that has not been reauthorized since 1988. This hearing is the latest in the Committee’s efforts to review the ESA to make sure that this important law is working in the best interests of species and people.

“The bills before us today are not the only solutions to ESA issues but, these bills demonstrate a continuing and growing awareness that ESA, as it currently exists, is not serving people or species well, not just in the West, but in many other areas of the country as well. Among other things, these bills would instill greater transparency, more accurate economic analyses, counting of species, adding sunshine to ESA ‘sue and settle’ policies, and greater deference to states that are already conserving species,” said Natural Recourses Committee Chairman Doc Hastings. “Clearly, ESA as written and implemented can be improved upon to ensure that this important law is working in the best interest of species and people and I expect that a discussion on sound legislative updates and improvements will continue well beyond this Congress.”

Witnesses at today’s hearing reiterated that transparency, sound science, and state, local, and tribal input, should driving listing decisions not closed-door court settlements with litigious environmental organizations.

“Greater state and local authority over species and habitat management is one way to fix the ESA. Under the current law, far flung activist groups have hijacked the process of listing species as endangered. At the same time, input from local, state, and regional officials — the very people impacted by listing decisions — is not required for such action. Activists have successfully gamed the system. This has led to burdensome and ineffective federal management of species, while collaborative conservation efforts by states have been ignored. Local, state and regional officials are better equipped and should be given the opportunity to coordinate species management efforts with stakeholders.” Todd Staples, Texas Agriculture Commissioner

“Let me be blunt; in my view, the species most threatened here is the American farmer and rancher. We are being marginalized right out of business by over-regulation from federal agencies acting beyond the intentions of Congress. These actions jeopardize the economic stability of the nation’s agricultural economy. Four decades ago, the men and women of Congress passed the Endangered Species Act. We now need Congress to exercise some common sense and fix these problems. To be clear, Farm Bureau supports the Endangered Species Act for the protection of legitimately threatened species. However, expansion of the law without first considering the full economic consequences is detrimental to an industry that provides food, fiber and shelter for our country and a good portion of the world.” Randy Veach, President, Arkansas Farm Bureau

“By engaging in closed door agreements with environmental groups the Fish and Wildlife Service ceded its own species priority setting process to outside parties agreeing to take they're marching orders from work plans created by environmental groups which were then, in turn, approved by a Federal Judge. The result is that while local stakeholders were left out of the process they still faced the responsibility of defending against proposed listings that have the potential to harm their communities… I would suggest that if all parties (stakeholders) are notified through their respective local governments and given the opportunity to be present and participate in the ESA Settlement discussions, there would be benefits potentially overcoming the delays that can result the outcomes of the present closed-door procedures.” Tom Ray, Water Resources Program Manager, Texas Water Conservation Association, Western Coalition of Arid States

“Sadly, it has become increasingly evident that non governmental entities are driving the agenda and continue to enrich themselves on the backs of American Taxpayers through sue and settle arrangements with USFWS invoking the protections afforded under the Equal Access to Justice Act. This litigious model, by so called non-profit organizations, has not only harmed the American economy by nearly shutting down our Primary and Secondary sectors of Industry but it has further divided the nation because of the disregard many of the outspoken environmental advocates have for private property and the protections afforded by both Federal and State Constitutions for the same.. Adopting this measure (H.R.4256) addresses the inconsistency that architecturally currently places endangered species in an adverse relationship with State, tribal, and private property owners and allows the advantages of localized involvement, shared responsibility and opportunity for recovery of endangered and threatened species while mitigating the negative relationship with the USFWS and the Congress of the U.S.” Dave Miller, Commissioner, Iron County & Cedar City, Utah

“Those of us charged with conservation of our natural resources and authorized to use the regulatory process to implement those endeavors, must be cognizant of the social and economic impacts or the weight of public opinion will result in its undoing. Should that occur, the losers will be our children and grandchildren. KDWPT and other state wildlife agencies are far better equipped to find the balance than the USFWS. The one size fits all approach, cannot find that balance in the various states. Conservation is too important to jeopardize its future with burdensome regulation or continual litigation. Environmentalist, Conservationist, and Natural Resource Agencies should unite behind voluntary incentives so we can have a true partnership with private property owners to preserve the diversity of our natural resources. H.R. 4866 recognizes the potential of those partnerships and instructs the Secretary of Interior to monitor and report on their progress.” Robin Jennison, Kansas Secretary of the Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism

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Agriculture, Timber, & Energy Production Would Suffer If Northern Long-Eared Bat is Listed as Endangered

2014/09/08

Today, the House Natural Resources Committee held a field oversight hearing on “The Northern Long Eared Bat: The Federal Endangered Species Act and the Impacts of a Listing on Pennsylvania and 37 Other States.”  This hearing examined questions regarding bat data and non-human-caused disease, as well as the likely negative impacts that a federal endangered listing of the Northern Long -eared Bat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would have on important activities such as farming, mining, timber, and agricultural activities.

In 2011, closed-door mega-settlements between two environmental groups and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) resulted in a deal that requires the Obama Administration to decide by 2016 whether to list 757 species as threatened or endangered and to list critical habitats for these species under the Endangered Species Act. (ESA). The proposed endangered listing of the Northern Long Eared Bat is part of the 2011 mega-settlement. A final decision for the Northern Long Eared Bat listing could be made within the next several months.

“The likely primary cause for any documented decline of the bats is not caused by any human-related activity, but rather from a disease transmitted mostly from bats to other bats called ‘White Nose Syndrome.’ It seems to me that efforts should focus on that issue, rather than creating a federal endangered species solution in search of a problem,” said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04). Federal edicts that ignore state efforts and data and impose one-size-fits-all solutions is not the most cooperative way to achieve this objective.”

“The ESA is far from perfect and has generated many unintended and harmful consequences. In fact, we are at a point now where the law desperately needs to be improved and modernized,” said Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson (PA-O5). No one can deny the challenge facing the Northern Long-Eared Bat due to White Nose Syndrome and there is consensus that we must learn more about the disease and improve partnerships at all levels to slow its spread. However, it is imperative that we get the science right and strategically address the root cause of the apparent population losses, rather than restrict large areas of the economy and activities that have no bearing on slowing or reversing the disease.”

“The proposed listing affects Pennsylvania as well as 37 other states.  It will directly impact thousands of acres in Pennsylvania and business activities on them. It is my concern that Federal listings of this scope and magnitude should not be driven by arbitrary court-settlement deadlines or be based on unpublished or sketchy data or personal opinions by federal bureaucrats. It is vitally important that these decisions are carefully and openly scrutinized and scientific data is used,” said Congressman Scott Perry (PA-04). I hope we can take a closer look at the Endangered Species Act and ensure that all proposed decisions to list a species be met with scientific data and not a knee-jerk reaction.  The proposed listing could mean significant changes to Pennsylvania’s economic and energy industry and jobs, while doing little if anything to help the declining population of long-eared bats.

This hearing is the latest in the Committee’s efforts to update and improve the ESA. In July, as a result of input from numerous stakeholders and witnesses who testified before the Committee on the effects of the ESA, the House of Representatives approved legislation that would improve and modernize the 40 year old law. The primary focus of these four bills is to promote data and cost transparency, species recovery, and litigation reform in the ESA.

Witnesses at today’s hearing highlighted the real economic impacts that the potential listing of the Northern Long-Eared Bat as endangered under the ESA would have on Pennsylvania citizens without any measurable benefits for the bat and offered real solutions on how the law can be improved so it is working in the best interests of species and people.

“To think that an unelected body can dictate to us when we can and cannot cut our standing timber on our own land according to a bat’s mating schedule is simply preposterous. It wouldn’t be so hard  if there was come kind of recourse  to protest the ruling made so far away by people who have never been here who really don’t give a hoot whether the citizens of Armstrong County have jobs is comprehensively unacceptable. The ESA encourages us, who have such a dynamic grasp of patriotism, to become lawbreakers in the Nation we’ve gone to fight for. It has to stop.”State Representative Jeffrey Pyle, Pennsylvania 60th Legislative District

“As a farmer, I believe that using both common sense and science is a logical way to approach not just farming, but regulations. It seems to me that this proposal to list the Northern Long-Eared Bat is flawed from both a scientific and common sense perspective. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that human activities have not had an appreciable effect on the species to date, why would we focus on human-induced impacts to try to slow population decline? It just doesn’t make sense… We’re more than willing to work with states and the federal government to do our part to ensure the longevity of the Northern Long-Eared Bat. But let’s make sure we’re solving the problem, not making new ones, because we’re not targeting the root cause.”Jeff Brubaker, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau

“The habitat protection provisions associated with an endangered listing of the NLEB will have dramatic negative consequences for Pennsylvania’s forestry industry, its forest landowners, the state’s economy and the forest habitat itself – all while providing no benefit to addressing the impact of WNS that threatens the NLEB. The USFWS needs to forego any mandated restrictions on forest management practices.  The USFWS needs to work with other federal agencies, state wildlife and forestry agencies and other stakeholder to fill the gaps in the existing data and understanding of NLEB and WNS.  Finally, the USFWS and others need to remain focused on the research and efforts on the control and elimination of the WNS that is the actual threat to NLEB and other bat species.”Paul Lyskava, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Forest Products Association

“Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA) and our member companies believe that the proposed listing is unsupported by the facts and law and is not justified by the best available scientific and commercial data. We also believe that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must utilize its six month extension to subject the data to rigorous and transparent review to those in the scientific community, which will confirm the lack to scientific and legal justification for listing the Northern Long-Eared Bat…PIOGA suggests that if any final rule resulting in the listing of the species is adopted, it may not lawfully restrict activities, such as oil and gas development, that have no casual connection to White Nose Syndrome or otherwise threaten of endanger the Northern Long-Eared Bat.” Lou D’Amico, President & Executibg Director of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association

“A listing would therefore, severely restrict any permitted earth moving activity proposed within a broad geographic area, particularly among the mineral extraction industry.  The result would be permit delays and increased business costs without any assurance of commensurate environmental benefits. The Northern Long-Eared Bat has been hard-hit by White-Nose Syndrome, especially in the United States.  Indeed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife repeatedly recognizes that the White-Nose Syndrome, not any human activity, alone is responsible for the major impacts to the Northern Long-Eared Bat that have been reported. Any species protection requirements that would accompany a federal listing will not address the White Nose Syndrome impact on Northern Long-Eared Bats.  It would be senseless to impose significant costs on a multitude of industries whose activities would not affect the bat’s population with restrictions that would not in any measurable manner preserve the species.” John Stilley, President, Amerikohl Mining, Inc.

“While U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may not take economics into consideration when making decisions, it should recognize the fact it takes dollars generated from tax paying businesses to have a clean stable environment both socially and ecologically. The forest products industry is one of the largest industries in the state of Pennsylvania generating over 14 billion dollars to our state economy. As a logger, and part of the forest products industry here in Pennsylvania, I am committed to continuing forestry practices that enhance NLEB habitat. Any premature listing of an endangered species, or listing without taking into account economic considerations to the State, could have a negative impact to Pennsylvania’s Forest Products Industry, including  timberland owners and loggers as well as a significant impact to our State’s economy.” Martin Melville, Owner, Melville Forest Services

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Committee to Hold Pennsylvania Field Hearing on the Impacts of the Northern Long Eared Bat’s Federal Endangered Species Act Listing

2014/08/28

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a Full Committee field hearing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on September 8, 2014 on “The Northern Long Eared Bat: The Federal Endangered Species Act and the Impacts of a Listing on Pennsylvania and 37 Other States.”

This hearing will examine questions regarding bat data and non-human-caused disease, as well as the likely negative impacts that a federal endangered listing of the Northern Long Eared Bat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would have on important activities such as farming. The Northern Long Eared Bat is one of hundreds of species included in the Department of the Interior’s 2011 settlements with two groups that requires listing decisions by 2016. A final decision for the Northern Long Eared Bat could be made within the next several months. Witnesses at this hearing will testify about the real economic impacts of this potential listing on Pennsylvania citizens without any measurable benefits for the bat.

“Similar to the listing and habitat designation of the Northern Spotted Owl over 20 years ago, this is a potentially sweeping decision that affects portions of 38 states.  It is vital that a decision of this magnitude be based on actual data, not settlement deadlines, and that it includes input from affected landowners and stakeholders not only from Pennsylvania, but from the rest of the two-thirds of the United States that would be impacted,” said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04).

“This hearing is part of the House Natural Resources Committee’s effort to improve and update the Endangered Species Act. I want to thank Chairman Doc Hastings for initiating this timely hearing on the proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate the Northern Long Eared Bat as endangered, which will have sweeping effects on a range of economic sectors in 38 states including Pennsylvania,” said Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-05).

“I support the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) goal to preserve and protect domestic species. The proposal to list the Northern Long-Eared Bat on the ESA is another example of government rushing forward with a regulation that would have significant and far-reaching impacts on the economy, in this case, home building, farming, manufacturing, and even land management for ecological purposes. This hearing is an important opportunity to hear from local stakeholders on the negative effects that this potential listing would have on local communities and the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should fully evaluate the ramifications of this proposal to find a solution that protects the bat while allowing activities that minimally affect it to continue," said Rep. Scott Perry (PA-04).

WHAT:

Full Committee oversight field hearing on:
“The Northern Long Eared Bat: The Federal Endangered Species Act and Impacts of a Listing on Pennsylvania and 37 Other States”

WHEN:

Monday, September 8, 2014
10:00 AM EST

WHERE:

Hearing Room 1 – North Office Building
Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex
North 3rd Street
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Visit the Committee Calendar for additional information, once it is made available.  The meeting is open to the public and a live video stream will be broadcast at http://naturalresources.house.gov/live.

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Hastings Demands Army Corps Explain Its Settlement to Expand EPA’s Regulatory Authority over Columbia & Snake River Dams

2014/08/06

Today, Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers voicing strong concerns over the Corps’ settlement this week with Columbia Riverkeeper, a group that for years has sued the federal government and favors removal of Northwest dams. The settlement, which involves payment of over $140,000 in taxpayer-funded attorneys’ fees to the plaintiff, would vastly expand the regulatory authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over Army Corps’ dam operations nationwide. These dams, especially those in the Pacific Northwest, are the major source of clean, renewable electricity, irrigation, flood control, and navigation.

“Incredibly, I understand that no one other than U.S. Department of Justice or Army Corps lawyers were made aware of the terms of this sweeping settlement before it was finalized, and signed by a judge.  Like an increasing number of the Obama Administration’s ‘sue and settle’ agreements over the past few years, this settlement was negotiated behind closed-doors by the Justice Department with a litigious group without consultation or input from those most directly impacted,” wrote Chairman Hastings in the letter. Of great concern is the likely precedent that this decision could have relating to the EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Water Act, relating to the operation and maintenance of federal and non-federal dams, irrigation and maintenance of a vital navigational link on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Washington, Idaho and Oregon. This comes amidst the EPA’s hugely controversial ‘Waters of the U.S.’ proposal, which could shut down a host of water development projects and make it easier for litigious groups to sue to block them. I would request an immediate and thorough explanation of the Army Corps’ rationale and details of its actions relative to this settlement, not just to Congress, but also to all affected state, local tribal and other stakeholders that have an interest in the Army Corps’ dam operations nationwide.”

To view the letter, click here.

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Hastings: First Helium Auction is Realization of Bipartisan, Bicameral Helium Stewardship Act

2014/07/30

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) released the following statement regarding the first helium auction at the Federal Helium Reserve near Amarillo, TX.

“Today’s helium auction is the realization of the promise of the Helium Stewardship Act which for the first time establishes a public, transparent, and open process for the sale of helium from the Federal Reserve in Texas. This sale is critical to ensure that taxpayers get a fair return for their resource.  Participants are expected to include refiners, non-refiners, end-users, and producers.  This auction, which was the centerpiece of the reforms to the helium program, will allow a broader segment of interests to finally compete and will allow an open free market to dictate prices.  I look forward to the outcome of this first of its kind event”

Background:

On October 2, 2013,  H.R. 527, the Helium Stewardship Act that was signed into law, Public Law 113-40. This bipartisan legislation is a common-sense plan to sell helium from the Federal Helium Reserve in a responsible manner to prevent a global shortage, protect jobs and the economy, and ensure a fairer return for taxpayers.

The Federal Helium Reserve in Texas, operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is currently responsible for 30 percent of the world’s helium supply and more than 50 percent of our domestic helium supply.

It was originally created in 1926 to help the U.S. keep pace with global advancements in military technologies, such as blimps. As we all now know, blimps failed to become essential to our national defense purposes and the U.S. was left with a large reserve of helium that had declining usefulness. But in classic government form, the government kept spending money to fill the Reserve until the 1980’s, even when it was very clear that the original need for the Reserve was no longer necessary. By the 1990s, the helium program had racked up a $1.3 billion debt and Congress voted in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion to privatize the program.

Helium is essential to the manufacturing of computer chips and fiber optic cables, is used by hospitals for life-saving medical tests like an MRI, and is critical to national defense efforts.

Earlier this month, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing on the “Implementation and Administration of the 2013 Helium Stewardship Act.” At this hearing Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (CO-05) announced that he and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-05) are releasing a discussion draft of new legislation, The American Helium Security Act of 2014.  This draft legislation would help solve the need for a more secure and reliable domestic supply of helium to fulfill our Nation’s future needs.

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House Approves Legislation to Improve and Update the Endangered Species Act

2014/07/29

Today, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4315, the Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act with a bipartisan vote of 233-190. This common sense legislation focuses on sensible and specific updates to the Endangered Species Act in the areas of data transparency and species recovery.

“It’s been over 40 years since the Endangered Species Act was enacted and over 25 years since the law was renewed by Congress; it’s time this law was brought into the 21st Century. This common sense legislation to update and improve the Endangered Species Act aims to increase transparency, to enlist greater consultation by states, localities, and Indian tribes in species listings, and to reduce taxpayer-financed attorneys fees to help invest more funding in actual species recovery,” said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04). “The House’s bipartisan approval of this legislation to make modest, sensible updates to the ESA is an important step forward to making this law more effective for both species and people while respecting the original intent of this law which is to conserve species.”

Since its enactment in 1973, over 1500 species have been listed as a result of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and only 2 percent have been recovered. The last time the ESA was renewed by Congress was in 1988 – long before the internet and cell phones were as widespread and available for commercial use as they are today. With new technological capabilities readily available and strong support for conserving endangered species, there are key areas where improvements could be made to make the law more effective for both species and people in the 21st century.

Specifically, the Endangered Species Transparency & Reasonableness Act would:

  • Require data used by federal agencies for ESA listing decisions to be made publicly available and accessible through the internet, while respecting state data privacy laws and private property. 
  • Require the federal government to disclose to affected states data used prior to an ESA listing decision and it would require the “best available scientific and commercial data” used by the federal government to incorporate data provided by states, tribes, and local county governments. 
  • Require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to track, report to Congress, and make available online the federal taxpayer funds used to respond to ESA lawsuits, the number of employees dedicated to ESA litigation, and attorneys’ fees awarded in the course of ESA litigation and settlement agreements.
  • Prioritize species protection and protect taxpayer dollars by placing reasonable caps on attorneys fees to make the ESA consistent with existing federal law. For example, the federal government limits the prevailing attorneys fees to $125 per hour in most circumstances, including federal suits involving veterans, Social Security, and disability. But under the ESA, attorneys are being awarded huge sums, in many cases, at a rate much as $600 per hour.

For more information on H.R. 4315, click here.

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Chairman Hastings Floor Statement on Legislation to Improve & Update the Endangered Species Act

2014/07/29

Today, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) delivered the flooring floor statement in support of H.R. 4315, the Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act. 

“Mr. Chairman, today, I’m pleased to bring before the House legislation that would help update and improve the Endangered Species Act—a law over 40-years old that was last reauthorized in 1988.

H.R. 4315 melds together four common sense and focused bills introduced earlier this year by myself, Representatives Lummis, Neugebauer and Huizenga.  While respecting the original intent of the ESA to conserve species, this bill would help make the law more effective for both species and people. 

Because of the more than 500 ESA-related lawsuits that have been filed against the government during this Administration alone, it has become clear that costly litigation is not only driving ESA priorities, but litigation has become an impediment to species recovery.

I should also note that regardless of what some groups are saying, this is not a comprehensive bill – its four sections aim to increase transparency, to enlist greater consultation by states, localities and tribes and to reduce taxpayer-financed attorneys fees to help invest more funding in actual species recovery.

For example, Section 2 of the bill requires data used by federal agencies that decides which species should be added to the threatened or endangered list, to be publicly available and accessible through the Internet. The last significant update to the ESA was when the Internet was in its infant stages. Posting data supporting key ESA decisions online will greatly enhance transparency and data quality.

The American people should be able to access such data before federal listing and de-listing decisions are final. 

It is troubling that hundreds of sweeping listing decisions by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service cite unpublished studies, professional opinions, and other sources that are inaccessible to the public yet this data would be used to regulate the very people who don’t have access to this information.  This secrecy goes against the grain of good science and transparency. 

Data transparency is not only good for the American public in that it makes our government more accountable, it is also good for species because it allows for an open conversation  about improving species science.  As biologist Rob Roy Ramey testified, at a Natural Resources Committee hearing;

“When the data are not publicly accessible, legitimate scientific inquiry and debate is effectively eliminated, and no independent third party can produce the results. This action puts the basis of some ESA decisions outside the realm of science and species recovery is no better off.  Withholding data does not further the goal of species recovery.”

I couldn’t agree more, especially when over 700 species could potentially be listed over the next few years throughout the country.  These potential listings are due to this Administration’s mega-lawsuit settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians—groups that have filed hundreds of lawsuits against the government at taxpayer expense. 

 

 

One of these species could include the northern long-eared bat. It’s a listing which could impact 39 states.  Information on data when it comes to these species can only help, not hurt.  This bill fosters release of this information.

Section 3 of the bill would enhance state, local and tribal involvement in ESA decisions, by requiring that before any listing decision is made, the federal government must disclose its data to states affected by such actions.  In addition, Section 3 ensures that data from local, state and tribal entities - those closest to the ground - be factored into ESA listing decisions.

Section 4 would require the Administration to track and make available online the costs, in time and resources, to taxpayers as a result of ESA-related litigation.

Finally, section 5 would seek to reduce taxpayer-financed attorneys fees to help ensure that federal resources are focused more on species protection and recovery than on lucrative legal fees for serial litigants.  Such fees now are awarded as high as $600/hour.  This provision puts in place the same reasonable hourly caps on attorney fees used in another federal law, the Equal Access to Justice Act, for veterans, Social Security disability and other such claims.

H.R. 4315 starts with modest, sensible updates to the ESA by promoting transparency, greater state, local and tribal involvement, and bringing ESA litigation fees in line with another federal law.”  

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Contact Information

1324 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone 202-225-2761
Fax 202-225-5929
naturalresources.house.gov


Membership

Dan Benishek

MICHIGAN's 1st DISTRICT

Rob Bishop

UTAH's 1st DISTRICT

Paul Broun

GEORGIA's 10th DISTRICT

Bradley Byrne

ALABAMA's 1st DISTRICT

Kevin Cramer

NORTH DAKOTA

Steve Daines

MONTANA

Jeff Duncan

SOUTH CAROLINA's 3rd DISTRICT

John Fleming

LOUISIANA's 4th DISTRICT

Bill Flores

TEXAS' 17th DISTRICT

Louie Gohmert

TEXAS' 1st DISTRICT

Paul Gosar

ARIZONA's 4th DISTRICT

Doc Hastings

WASHINGTON's 4th DISTRICT

Raul Labrador

IDAHO's 1st DISTRICT

Doug LaMalfa

CALIFORNIA's 1st DISTRICT

Doug Lamborn

COLORADO's 5th DISTRICT

Cynthia Lummis

WYOMING

Vance McAllister

LOUISIANA's 5th DISTRICT

Tom McClintock

CALIFORNIA's 4th DISTRICT

Markwayne Mullin

OKLAHOMA's 2nd DISTRICT

Jon Runyan

NEW JERSEY's 3rd DISTRICT

Jason Smith

MISSOURI's 8th DISTRICT

Steve Southerland

FLORIDA's 2nd DISTRICT

Glenn Thompson

PENNSYLVANIA's 5th DISTRICT

Scott Tipton

COLORADO's 3rd DISTRICT

Rob Wittman

VIRGINIA's 1st DISTRICT

Donald Young

ALASKA