House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (UT-01) issued the following statement this evening on the Obama Administration’s release of its first Report on the Implementation of the National Ocean Policy:
“The Administration's ocean policy is similar to its approach to federal lands, particularly in the West, in that it champions new layers of federal bureaucracy over the needs of local communities and economies.
“The National Ocean Policy is essentially a White House-directed plan to implement zoning of the offshore, with multiple federal agencies in charge. This translates to red tape, bureaucracy, delays, and a blocking of a myriad of activities offshore and in inland waters that flow into the oceans. It could also pave the way for sweeping new marine monuments that could shut down a host of economic, energy— even national defense-related activities. While for years the Administration has failed to provide statutory authority this report outlines a full endorsement of coastal and offshore Marine Spatial Planning that will impede access for both recreational and commercial fisheries, future energy development and other economic drivers for many of our coastal and adjacent states. This not only creates great economic uncertainty for these industries, but for the numerous shore-side small businesses and communities that are supported by them.”Read More
House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs Don Young (R-AK), along with Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), and Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) sent a letter today to Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, requesting that the Department refrain from issuing a final rule on tribal acknowledgement regulations as set forth in 25 C.F.R. Part 83, cautioning that the proposed rule poses a range of “unintended and unjustifiable” consequences.
“We are writing to request your cooperation in evaluating the procedures used for acknowledging tribal status and the impacts of modifying the regulations governing such determinations,” the letter stated. “....commenters have identified problems with the proposed regulations, including a number federally recognized Indian tribes, some of which argue the proposal undermines the unique status of tribes and their relationship with the United States.”
“Before making any changes, the federal government must understand the impacts the proposed changes will have on tribal and non-tribal communities to ensure that any rules the Department ultimately adopts do not result in flawed decisions,” the Members urged. “To that end, we request the Department to refrain from issuing final regulations until we have conducted the oversight necessary to evaluate thoroughly the issues associated with recognition…We must also ensure that any changes that are made promote fair, accurate, and transparent decisions.”
Today’s hearing will address the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management’s 2016 budget proposals for energy and minerals management. We will be examining how these agencies’ budgets will be used to promote energy development, and how safe operations can be ensured without duplicative and overly burdensome regulations.
The BLM seeks $1.35 billion dollars for funding in Fiscal Year 2016, an increase of $140 million from what was previously enacted. This increase will in part be premised on the administration’s claim of increased oil production on onshore federal land.
There has been an increase of federal onshore production of oil from 103 million barrels in 2008, to 148 million barrels in 2014. When tribal lands are included, that number jumps to over 200 million barrels produced.
This increase is noteworthy, and is a trend that should continue across all energy sectors. However, I am afraid the good news ends there.
For those same years that oil production has increased on non-tribal lands, coal production has fallen from 483 million tons to 402 million, while natural gas production has decreased by 500 billion cubic feet.
Although the administration credits itself for the increase in oil production, such credit is misplaced. Indeed, of the currently active 46,000 leases, the administration approved 10,000 of those at most. In other words, nearly 80 percent of currently active leases were issued by prior administrations. The administration has done nothing to improve this percentage.
According to information made available on the BLM’s website, the BLM issued the lowest number of new leases in Fiscal Year 2014 than in any other year. In fact, the BLM has averaged 56 percent fewer leases issued per year than even the Clinton administration.
Meanwhile, the total number of acreage leased has rapidly decreased. When this Administration first took office, over 47 million acres of public lands were leased - the highest total since 1992. Since then, total acreage leased has fallen by a staggering 27 percent.
Furthermore, the current BLM has been insistent on introducing new regulations and legislative proposals that are duplicative in nature, unnecessarily burdensome, and not based in the realities of onshore oil and gas or solid mineral production.
One example of this is the new hydraulic fracturing rule that was finalized last Friday. Although the administration insists this new regulation will “only” cost $11,000 per well, it does not factor in the accompanying regulatory delays and their associated costs.
It would be a little less frustrating if the fracking rule had been the only attack on energy production that the BLM seeks to implement. Yet it is not, and at a time when oil and natural gas prices are at consistent lows, the BLM seeks to potentially raise royalty rates and institute a new inspection fee.
Your budget justification states: “Energy and mineral resources generate the highest revenue values of any uses of the public lands.” Yet the long delays, coupled with proposed higher royalty rates and increased inspection fees will continue to dissuade industry interest in federal lands. This is not the way for BLM to proceed, and is driving away the revenues that help justify the existence of your agency.
As for the U.S. Forest Service, it has proposed a $6.489 billion budget for 2016. This is a $942 million dollar increase over 2015. However, the Service does not seek to adequately spread around the requested wealth.
For those two line items that support energy and mineral development, the Service seeks an 8 percent decrease. This potential cut could cost the treasury more than $42 million in 2016, and adversely affect energy and mineral production on Forest Service land.
Together, both the BLM and the Forest Service manage approximately 20 percent of the total surface area of the United States, and over one third of the nation’s on-shore mineral estate. I hope our discussion today will ensure that your budget is used to promote increased revenues for the American people on those vast lands that Congress has entrusted to you.
With that said, I thank Chief Tidwell and Director Kornze for your time today, and look forward to your testimony.
Committee on Natural Resources Vice Chairman Cynthia Lummis (WY-At large) today questioned BLM Director Neil Kornze on how the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between BLM and the states will operate.
“Who will approve well bore integrity issues? Will you approve those? Who will do the inspections? Will [states] be brought in? Who is going to be brought in to inspect that – [states] or you?”Rep. Lummis asked.
”Because the Bureau of Land Management manages such a scattered land pattern across the country, it’s very important to work efficiently with state regulators,” Kornze responded. “We can more or less cross-deputize state inspectors to do that work.”
Rep. Ryan Zinke (MT-At large)focused on the available science and expertise in the BLM: “There seems to be a greater amount of expertise in the states. I am concerned about the science of what we’re doing and who is in the best position to make sure that what we’re doing is right…Who within the BLM staff has relevant, current experience in fracking?”
Zinke continued,“If you don’t have the modern expertise, are you asking for more people to do it? And why are we asking then for more people to do it when the states probably have the better expertise? Are we making a solution to a problem that isn’t there?”Read More
Chairman Bishop: “Have the states…screwed up? Are the state [water] engineers incompetent? Is that what the Forest Service is trying to say?” Bishop asked
Chief Tidwell: “No...”
Chief Tidwell: “We can maybe head off the number of lawsuits that we seem to be increasing every year around this issue,” Chief Tidwell stated today, as he’s done repeatedly since the controversial directive was first proposed in 2014.
Chairman Bishop: “We’ve looked at the, your agency has supplied us with, the law suits. Almost all of them deal with mining issues and drilling issues,” Rep. Bishop quipped during the hearing.
If it’s not the lawsuits and not the MOU…. “Then there is no justification for changing this ground[water] rule policy and I’m going to ask you not to just put it on a temporary hold, but to eliminate it,” stated Bishop. Read More
The Department of the Interior will generate $13.8 billion next year and consume only $13.1 billion. This is as it should be. The public lands under its jurisdiction – and under the Department of Agriculture with respect to National Forest land – represents vast resources upon which our economic prosperity partly depends.
We should note, however, that this operating surplus is largely due to energy leasing that was approved many years ago. In fact, $10.2 billion of the $13.8 billion the Department will generate is because of OCS and onshore mineral leasing done under previous administrations.
Sadly, energy production on public lands has been largely discouraged by this administration. And a chronic decline of other resource management has been ongoing during this and previous administrations. This has devastated local economies, denied taxpayers the efficient use of its assets, and with respect to forest policy, has devastated the environment.
We have seen an 80 percent decline in timber harvested out of the national forests during the past 30 years. During the same period, we have suffered a proportional increase in forest acreage destroyed by fire. As a forester warned years ago, “all that excess timber comes out of the forest one way or the other. It is either carried out, or it is burned out. But it will come out.”
When we carried it out, we had healthy forests and a thriving economy. But since we consigned our forests to a policy of benign neglect, we have seen them devastated by fire, disease and pestilence, as stressed-out trees now fight for their survival in catastrophically overgrown conditions and hundreds of square miles of critical habitats are literally incinerated.
Road closures – often over the intense opposition of local governments – have radically restricted public access to the public lands. Last year I visited the command center of the massive King Fire on the day they thought they would lose the entire towns of ForestHill and Georgetown. The most bitter complaint of the firefighters is that they could no longer get to the fire on the ground because government land managers had abandoned the forest roads.
Increasingly restrictive access policies and heavy-handed enforcement have reduced the tourist appeal of the public lands. Draconian permit fees have caused the cancellation of annual community events upon which many mountain communities depend.
Rampant land acquisitions are devastating tax bases. Fire chiefs in the Tahoe basin recently complained to me that the Forest Service is rapidly buying up lots destroyed by the Angora Fire – permanently denying these agencies the property taxes they depend upon to operate – to the point it is creating critical funding shortfalls. Ninety two percent of Alpine County in my district is now occupied by the federal government. The federal government only occupies 25 percent of the District of Columbia!
Grazing, mining and cabin permit fees have been raised far beyond market rates, resulting in lost revenue to the government and lost economic activity to the communities as productive enterprises are forced off the land.
I have five national forests in my district – and the devastating impact these policies have had on once thriving local economies is heart-breaking. The only reason our communities desperately rely on Secure Rural Schools Funding and PILT funding is because their own federal government has systematically laid waste to their local economies.
I appreciate the assurances from our land managers that all is well, but those who live and work in these communities know better.
I would propose three new management goals for these agencies:
First, the public has a right, in the words of the Yosemite charter, to the USE, RESORT and RECREATION of these lands with the fewest restrictions compatible with sustainable management.
Second, the public has a right to expect the public lands will be properly managed to assure the prosperity and enjoyment of both the current generation and those who follow. This is particularly true of our national forests that have been devastated by years of misfeasance and nonfeasance.
Third, the federal government needs to defer to the local governments in all matters in which their welfare is impacted by the federal lands. The federal government needs to become a good neighbor once again.
Congress has sole constitutional authority to oversee and manage the public lands, and we will be doing everything we can to restore these principles. We look forward to working with these agencies to accomplish this in the coming years.
Today the Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans meets to review the budgets of the federal agencies charged with the responsibility of utilizing the immensely important water and power resources of the United States.
Most of the agencies we will hear from today are regional in scope, but have nationwide impacts. The Bureau of Reclamation, for example, has allowed our Western states to flourish both economically and culturally for over a century, yet the water that flows from its projects today has a profound benefit to our nation’s food supplies. Many of the fruits and vegetable that we see in grocery aisles are directly related to irrigated agriculture served by the projects. The agency is still being financed by water and power users under the century-old “beneficiaries-pay” rules, but some of its programs are being financed by American taxpayers. It is indeed a legitimate question to determine the federal nexus for some of these grant programs, including the removal of residential grass or the exchange of toilets throughout the West.
The four Power Marketing Administrations – or PMAs - deliver hydropower generated at Bureau of Reclamation and Corps of Engineers dams serve millions of families and businesses throughout the West and the South. The core mission of these PMAs is to provide low-cost, renewable hydropower to wholesale power customers within sound business principles. My district in Louisiana is served by the Southwestern Power Administration. Southwestern has the potential to deliver more than 2,000 megawatts generated by 24 federal multi-purpose hydropower projects. These projects give our region diverse sources of affordable, reliable energy.
Like many states west of the Mississippi, however, our region has also experienced drought. Over the last decade, Southwestern customers have been plagued by volatile rates largely as a result of unpredictable weather patterns. To help alleviate some of this volatility, Southwestern’s customers have proposed language to create a Purchase Power Drought Fund. This account, designed to avoid rate spikes, will be pre-funded through a new rate component charged to Southwestern customers. I look forward to discussing the Drought Fund proposal during this hearing, and hope to gain valuable insight on the way in which Southwestern plans on managing this fund.
Drought has undoubtedly played a role on rate increases. However, there are other drivers that the ratepayers must absorb since the PMAs are solely ratepayer-financed. Fish and wildlife costs are directly passed on to the consumers. All staffing costs are borne by ratepayers as well. Since PMAs operate under the “beneficiaries-pay” rule, these agencies must be accountable to those who pay the bills.
There are instances where some of the agencies’ activities could lead to un-intended costs borne by ratepayers and taxpayers. For example, Southwestern is engaged in a proposal called Clean Line to provide wind power to eastern cities. Although Southwestern’s customers are not being asked to finance this project, many of its customers are concerned that they will bear the liability if the line goes belly-up. I would also note that the Arkansas delegation is pursuing legislation to limit Southwestern’s eminent domain powers on this project.
In addition, the Western Area Power Administration has a new “borrowing authority” designed to facilitate the delivery of green energy through taxpayer loans to third-party developers. This so-called “stimulus” law that created this program states– and I quote – “If, at the end of the useful life of a project, there is a remaining balance owed to the Treasury under this section, the balance shall be forgiven.” Taxpayers do not need another Solyndra, which is why I have offered amendments to the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill in past years to ensure that no taxpayer dollars are spent on this program.
Taxpayers and ratepayers deserve accountability in our government. They deserve a more transparent and responsive government. This hearing is designed to help foster better communication and accountability. I look forward to working with the Subcommittee members on these goals and I welcome today’s witnesses.
We are here today to consider the President’s proposed fiscal year 2016 budget and missions for the U.S. Geological Survey.
I’d like to thank the acting Director and her staff for reaching out and briefing the Members of my subcommittee and their staff on the President’s FY-2016 budget proposal for the USGS. I know that took time and commitment on your part to visit as many offices as you did.
I see that the 2016 budget request for the USGS is $1.2 billion, an increase of $149.8 million and 207 FTE (full time employees) from the 2015 enacted level -- somewhat unexpected when our National debt is so high.
Just as a reminder, the Survey was founded on March 3, 1879 for the purpose of classifying public lands and to examine geologic structures, mineral resources, and products within and outside the national domain. While that mission has expanded to cover about every resource; in fact if I remember correctly several years ago I compared it to Genesis and acknowledged the USGS has taken on the responsibility for the entire world: the rocks, waters, animals, and air. It sounds like an incredibly daunting job and a lot of mission creep.
Currently the only authorized program at USGS is the “National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program” a partnership program with the various State Geological Surveys. Most other programs under the jurisdiction of this subcommittee are justified by the short but seemingly all encompassing ‘organic act’ from the 1879 appropriations law.
While many of the programs are meritorious and provide great value to the American Taxpayer, no one in the 1870s would have dreamed of the technological capabilities that we have today.
These might include the development of an Earthquake Early Warning System that received an increase in 2015 through the appropriations process or the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) initiative - 3D elevation data is collected using light detection and ranging referred to as lidar - initiative being the operative word here.
Then there’s the request for an increase of $8.6 million for the All-of-the-Above Energy initiative, which includes helping with the development of ‘unconventional oil and gas resources’ and the environmental impact of uranium mining.
‘Unconventional oil and gas development’ has been ongoing for a couple of decades or more and the environmental impact of uranium mining, or any mining for that matter, has been understood for decades and has to be addressed in the permitting process by the land management agencies or entities issuing the operating permits.
Then there is the request for an increase of $1.4 million that would allow the USGS to conduct research to identify likely areas of potential geothermal resource exploration and development – something that the private sector is willing to pay the American taxpayer handsomely for the opportunity to do – they only ask that their projects be permitted in a timely manner.
Under the Climate and Land Use Change program area you request an increase of $55.8 + million and an additional 58 FTEs over the 2015 enacted level. While a significant portion of this increase, $29.6 million, would be dedicated to upgrading Landsat – a program that I support very strongly – most of the increase in FTEs, 56, are slotted for climate and land use change.
I do want to thank you for your work on the minerals program to monitor rare earth elements and other critical minerals. Your effort to alert agencies when a supply constraint may be approaching is helpful.
I could go on regarding specific requests in the budget but I will finish by reminding us, including the Administration, that baseline geologic information allows the United States to make informed decisions on how to best reduce our dependence on foreign sources of fuel and non-fuel mineral resources improving our economic and national security.
We’re not going to be able to manage our ecosystems, monitor our water or rebuild after a natural disaster without these important natural resources. But, the USGS needs to avoid mission creep, which only dilutes the valuable work you should be doing.
Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Department of the Interior released a long-anticipated and highly controversial finalized rule on hydraulic fracturing and well construction on federal lands. Chairman Rob Bishop (UT-01) released the following statement:
“I disagree with the underlying premise of this duplicative and nonsensical rule. What this Administration fails to understand or prefers to ignore, is that states have been responsibly and effectively regulating energy development for decades.
“Working under supervision of states, which have the geological expertise and technical experience that the federal government lacks, hydraulic fracturing coupled with directional drilling has unlocked the United States’ vast energy potential, catapulting our nation to become the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world. This success story is now being targeted by the Obama Administration as its next victim of federal bureaucratic intrusion, even though Secretary Sally Jewell and other top officials have attested to the safety of the process.
“The BLM severely underestimates the added costs and delays that this rule will cause by overlaying upon existing state regulations that have a proven record of safety. Additionally, the state variance provision, how a state proves that they already meet or exceed the specified criteria, demonstrates the duplicity of the rule in the first place and will create an entanglement of bureaucracy previously unseen in our nation’s energy history.
“What’s the result? Producers will be driven from federal lands. Energy development on federal lands will be marginalized. Less money will flow into the federal treasury. More local communities will be denied economic opportunities associated with energy development, including funding for education.
“The Western states, where federal lands are found, will bear the brunt of this anti-economic development rule, which is costumed as environmental protection. My kids, who are still in school, and my neighbors’ kids will be the victims as they will have fewer and more expensive education opportunities, thanks to diminished revenue for education. The Administration is once again clandestinely picking winners and losers, and this rule is aimed squarely at the West.
“This rule is the latest notch in the President’s coveted climate legacy, but it is not good for the West and it is not good for our country.”
The Committee on Natural Resources conducted major oversight in the 113th Congress and passed legislation on this rule in the U.S. House of Representatives. Learn more here. The Committee will be further reviewing this rule in detail with the input of stakeholders and the concerns of Members of Congress in both the House and Senate.Read More