Today, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held an oversight hearing on the lack of enforcement and accountably from the Obama Administration in response to a growing number of reports of unethical and criminal conduct at the Department of the Interior (DOI).
Since last month’s subcommittee hearing on the “culture of corruption” at DOI, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released more reports of blatant unethical and illegal acts from high-ranking employees. Criminal violations are then referred to the Department of Justice (DOJ), but they have routinely declined prosecution case after case. The DOJ was invited to testify at the hearing, but they declined to provide a witness.
“Unfortunately it has become entirely clear that there is no ‘culture of compliance’ at the Department of the Interior. Action and accountability behind it fall terribly short of the responsibility that taxpayers deserve,” Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL) stated.
Some of the most egregious violations include long term patterns of sexual harassment at both the Cape Canaveral National Seashore and the Grand Canyon National Park and decades of scientific misconduct stretching as far back as 1996. This data manipulation impacted work products worth over $100 million with unknown, far reaching consequences on research projects, agency action and academia. As a result of the findings, the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) had to permanently close an Energy Resources Program laboratory in Colorado.
Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) reiterated his call for National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis’ resignation. He questioned Kendall on the IG's report and subsequent accounts that Director Jarvis lied to DOI Secretary Jewell and attempted to mislead OIG investigators. The initial report found that he violated ethics rules by using his official position to obtain the book deal.
“After the two previous hearings, quite frankly, I’ve been shocked at the culture of corruption and misconduct that has been allowed to persist at the National Park Service,” Rep. Hice added.
Director Jarvis assured Secretary Jewell he wrote the book at the request of the publisher and on his own time with no ethics issues, which were found to be a lies. Jarvis issued a public apology for his behavior on May 27, 2016, which Kendall, during the hearing, referred to as “terribly qualified and not as sincere as I would have liked to seen.”
One report, released yesterday, found that Fay Iudicello, then-Director of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of the Executive Secretariat and Regulatory Affairs (ES), violated Federal hiring practices in an effort to hire a relative of her ex-husband as a management analyst. She actively discriminated against more qualified applicants with master’s degrees and veteran’s preference in the process. Ludicello retired earlier this year. In response to questions from Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) on the report, DOI’s Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall called out the Office of the Secretary for “egregious hiring issues.”
Chairman Bishop followed up, asking if any disciplinary action had been taken against Ludicello. “Once she’s retired, the Department is very limited in what it can do,” Kendall responded.
The panel also reviewed the case of Stephen Barton, the Chief of Administration and Information Management for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Barton failed to disclose he was also employed and paid nearly $400,000 as the treasurer of a private organization that receives grants from and is audited by FWS. He also stuck taxpayers with a $96,000 travel bill. The DOJ declined to prosecute this case.
DOI’s Kendall attributed the lack of enforcement to “constrained resources” and “ever-increasing complaints and allegations.”
“Failure of accountability extends beyond the Department of the Interior. Of 29 criminal cases that the OIG referred to the Department of Justice over the course of six months, 17 were declined for prosecution. This number is troubling, especially when DOJ participates alongside OIG in some of these investigations that it ultimately declines to prosecute,” Subcommittee Chairman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said.Click here to view full witness testimony. Read More
Yesterday, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, introduced S. 3085, the Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act of 2016. The legislation pares a responsible solution to “fire-borrowing” with much needed reforms to improve forest heath on federal lands. This bill is similar to H.R. 2647 (Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-AR), the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, which passed the House on July 9, 2015.
“We are pleased Chairman Roberts has introduced a comprehensive approach to address catastrophic wildfire. The solution to our wildfire crisis requires a responsible budget fix coupled with targeted forest management reforms, and that’s what this bill achieves. We must simplify environmental process requirements so the Forest Service can reduce hazardous fuels at a far greater pace and scale. More money alone will not solve the problem. We look forward to working with the Senate on this important piece of legislation,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said.
“Last year, more than 10 million acres went up in smoke due to decades of unmanaged forests and a government spending more on fighting fires and special interest groups in court than managing the forests in scientifically-proven ways. The 2016 fire season could be worse than last year with multiple fires breaking out across Western states,” Rep. Westerman stated. “I am pleased that Sen. Roberts has introduced legislation similar to the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, which the House passed last year. In order to fight catastrophic wildfires, we need a new strategy that reins in frivolous lawsuits, allows federal agencies to scientifically manage the national forest system, and ends fire-borrowing in a cost-effective manner. Our rural communities are suffering and our forests cannot wait any longer.”
Click here to learn more about H.R. 2647.
Click here to learn more about S. 3085.Read More
Today, the Subcommittee on Federal Lands held an oversight hearing on challenges and potential solutions for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) management of wild horses & burros on federal land.
BLM faces a costly challenge in managing the exploding population of wild horses and burros in the West. More than 45,000 wild horses live in BLM holding facilities costing taxpayers more than $49 million per year, which is roughly two thirds of BLM’s total program budget. BLM projects the cost of caring for one horse in a corral facility is nearly $50,000 over the life of each animal, adding up to more than $1 billion based on the current number of animals in holding.
The growing population problem also poses severe threats to rangeland health, wildlife habitat, livestock ranching, agricultural development, and the wild horses and burros themselves.
“The very animals and resources that the BLM is charged with management of are being negatively impacted and in some cases, irreversible damage to our western rangelands is resulting from mismanagement,” Dr. JJ Goicoechea, DVM, State Veterinarian and Deputy Administrator of State of Nevada Department of Agriculture, said. “How much longer can we turn a blind eye to the real issue? It is time to push the reset button and build a program, for the good of everyone and everything involved.”
BLM’s Deputy Director for Operations, Steve Ellis said BLM is taking steps toward longer-term solutions, like increasing horses and burro adoption and requesting legislative authority to allow the transfer of horses to other federal, state, and local agencies. However, he stressed their options are very limited. BLM’s hands are tied by appropriations language and the risk of litigation by animal rights groups.
“BLM is also plagued with lawsuits by animal rights organizations that seem to criticize virtually every action BLM takes, yet come up with no reasonable solutions themselves.
While I rarely defend the BLM, the agency is severely limited in the actions it can take,” Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock (R-CA) said.
“We’ve got to be creative in this in some particular way,” Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said. “If you were to […] take the horses off the land and put them in holding facilities, that’s not a great life for the horses. If you leave them on the range, […] we’re destroying wildlife habitat—that’s not a great option either. […] There’s got to be some other option.”
Witness Callie Hendrickson, Executive Director of White River & Douglas Creek Conservation Districts and Chairwoman of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Federal Lands Issue Advisory Committee, called for common-sense and ecologically-sound management solutions.
“This overabundance is critically damaging the ecology of western rangelands with severe, long-term consequences for the native plant and animal life that call it home. [We] recommend and support the use of common-sense, ecologically-sound rangeland management practices to ensure healthy wildlife and rangelands for future generations,” Hendrickson stated. “It is clear that the BLM lacks the authority and wherewithal to make the necessary management decisions needed to address the current crisis facing western rangelands and effective management of the Wild Horse and Burro Program.”
Click here to read full witness testimony.Read More
House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) today issued the following statement on the White House report on The Economics of Coal Leasing on Federal Lands.
“Once you scratch through the thin veneer of objectivity, this report is nothing more than card-stacking from the President. I appreciate this attempt by the White House to create a semblance of credibility for this moratorium, but this type of propaganda is beneath the Council of Economic Advisers.”Read More
Yesterday, a federal judge struck down the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) hydraulic fracturing rule the Department of the Interior (DOI) issued in March 2015. The judge stated that DOI does not have the authority to regulate fracing. Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) released the following statement:
“Like so many other policies from the Obama Administration, this was a blatant overreach of their authority. BLM’s total disregard for the rule of the law was gutted by the courts, and rightly so. The Administration’s regulatory onslaught has left states and communities to pick up the pieces and pay the hefty price for Obama’s radical left-wing agenda.”“I’m encouraged by yesterday’s decision as today’s science and fracing expertise has allowed communities across the country to thrive. These opportunities help pay for children’s education, support local businesses and strengthen our nation’s energy security. Now we have to wait and see what happens to the many regulations like the BLM’s methane rule just waiting in the wings.” Read More
Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources held an oversight hearing titled “Investigating the Appropriate Role of NEPA in the Permitting Process.”
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) was designed as a regulatory compliance framework for projects or actions requiring a federal permit. In practice, the NEPA process has often proven overly burdensome, costly and time-consuming for a range of economic sectors.
In many cases, federal agencies have used NEPA to delay or deny permitting. More recently, the Obama Administration has begun bypassing NEPA to preemptively deny project approval. Attorney Roger Martella, Jr. emphasized that uncertainty surrounding the NEPA process has a paralyzing effect on critical economic growth and energy independence projects.
“Despite the extraordinary contributions NEPA has made to informed decision making over 45 years, NEPA also is at risk for being hijacked as a tool of obstructionism by providing for unnecessarily broad review. Improperly stretching NEPA’s reach can lead to vast delays and uncertainty before agencies and the courts,” Martella said.
The fact that this fifty-year old law is routinely used as a statute of convenience to suit a preconceived agenda demonstrates the need for reform.
“Too often, federal agencies use the NEPA process to delay permitting for months or years and eventually kill projects. But, now when it looks as if it will not be an impediment to the permitting process, federal agencies are denying permits before the NEPA process is completed,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said.
The panel focused on two recent federal agency decisions: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to deny a permit for the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Washington state and the EPA’s actions in the Bristol Bay Watershed of Alaska. In both cases, the agencies took controversial actions to sidestep NEPA and achieve a predetermined outcome.
“EPA would be a much more effective agency if it fulfilled its statutory mandate by faithfully following the well-established NEPA process, rather than by creating its own ad hoc process for implementing a preemptive veto,” CEO of the Pebble Partnership Thomas Collier stated.
In the case of Pebble Mine, EPA conducted its own analysis of the project, the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (BBWA), outside of the NEPA process. EPA later acknowledged the BBWA had significant gaps, including insufficient environmental analysis, that would have been covered under NEPA.
“If a precedent is established whereby EPA can veto any of these projects before they are proposed […] the chilling effect on our economy will be profound,” Collier added.
In an exchange with Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Collier explained he was denied due process and cannot file a permit application because the Army Corps of Engineers won’t make a decision while the EPA has already initiated a preemptive veto.
Executive Secretary for the Washington State Building Trades Council Lee Newgent talked about his work with the Gateway Pacific Terminal and reiterated similar concerns.
“The other issue at Cherry Point is the politicizing of the product and not the project. Gateway as proposed is a multi-commodity export facility and coal is only one of the export materials […] Our economy at the present time is linked directly to fossil fuels,” Newgent stated.Click here to view full witness testimony. Read More
House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) today issued the following statement on the path forward for a House-Senate conference on energy legislation.
“At the end of the day, our goal is to get something to the President that he will sign into law. From our perspective, a bill that the President will veto is a waste of time and effort and casts aside the hard work we’ve put in up to this point,” Upton & Bishop said. “We remain committed to working in a bicameral, bipartisan manner and remain hopeful we can set aside our differences and move ahead with a formal conference between the two chambers.”Read More
Today, at a press conference in National Statuary Hall, Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) joined Speaker Paul Ryan and members of the Task Force on Restoring Constitutional Authority to unveil an initiative to restore the separation of powers and Congress’ unique constitutional role.
The Restoring Constitutional Authority Task Force report released today outlines a plan to simplify and clarify legislation, hold agencies and bureaucracies to the letter of the law and prevent excessive regulations. This is the fourth plank of “A Better Way,” a bold agenda to tackle some of our country’s biggest challenges.
During the event, Bishop outlined how the executive branch routinely exploits vaguely worded language in legislative text. Stressing the importance of Congress enacting clear and more specific laws, Bishop outlined a number of proposals within the report that serve to limit the abuse of executive authorities.
“We will self-police ourselves with this document so no longer will we have language that gives carte blanche to the agencies. We will establish what the parameters will be. We will put in language that will insist that there is coordination between the agencies and local governments so locally elected officials by the people can have their voice also being heard,” stated Bishop. “If we don’t do this, if we don’t insist that the rules and regulations have to be reviewed with us before they are implemented, not after, if we don’t do that, people are going to be harmed. And if we do it, citizens are going to be empowered. That’s the goal with this document. It is a better way.”
Click here to view the full report.
Click here to learn more about “A Better Way.”Read More
Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources held a markup on 19 bills including H.R. 4582 (Rep. Jeff Denham), the “Save Our Salmon Act,” which will exclude striped bass from the fish doubling requirement and other provisions of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA). H.R. 4582 passed as part of a broader unanimous consent package.
“This is bipartisan and common-sense legislation means less money, time and water wasted,” Rep. Denham said. “The committee unanimously approved the bill today and I look forward to seeing it enacted into law soon.”
The non-native striped bass poses a direct threat to the endangered Pacific salmon. Federal, tribal, state and local governments have spent billions of dollars and sent millions of gallons of water into the ocean on ESA-related recovery efforts, exacerbating the California drought.
In a February 10, 2016, Water, Power and Oceans Subcommittee oversight hearing on predation, a National Marine Fisheries Service witness testified that some salmonid populations in California are “extremely low due to an abundance of striped bass.” One focus of the hearing was the Central Valley Project Improvement Act's statutory goal to at least double the natural production of anadromous fish, which includes both salmon and one of their non-native predators, striped bass.
As a result, Rep. Denham introduced H.R. 4582 to eliminate this ongoing federal conflict between protecting striped bass and endangered salmon in California. At the Subcommittee’s April 20, 2016 legislative hearing on H.R. 4582, the Administration testified that: “In consideration of the striped bass’s function as a fish that contributes to mortality for listed species and is not native to the Bay-Delta or even California, the Department has no concern with the removal of striped bass from the CVPIA’s fish doubling goals.”Click here to learn more about H.R. 4582. Read More
Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources held a markup on 19 bills including a trio of bills to comprehensively address the existing funding, technical and legal impediments to abandoned mine cleanup. These mining reclamation bills passed in a larger unanimous consent package.
Click here to view a summary of the package which includes: H.R. 3734, the Mining Schools Enhancement Act (MSEA), introduced by Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-NV), H.R. 3844, the Bureau of Land Management Foundation Act, introduced by Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), and H.R. 3843, the Locatable Minerals Claim Location and Maintenance Fees Act, introduced Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO).
“If we’ve learned anything from the EPA’s Gold King Mine disaster, it’s that the federal government lacks the expertise, resources and capacity to reclaim abandoned mines. On top of that, environmentalists have made it impossible for charitable groups and volunteers to clean up abandoned mine lands without the threat of frivolous litigation. This package provides much-needed liability protections and creative solutions to develop the technical talent and funding resources to ensure cleanup is done safely and without further delay. I applaud the work of members on and off the Committee in developing a comprehensive framework to address this challenge on a bipartisan basis. I look forward to advancing these bills through the House,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) stated.
“Whether it’s minerals to power our industrial companies, metals that allow our consumer electronics and military’s advanced weaponry to function, or the materials I relied on as a contractor to build roads, bridges, and dams; there isn’t a single sector of our economy that isn’t touched by mining. My bill is a common sense approach to boost STEM education so that we can fill the skills gap in the mining workforce by increasing the number of engineers and scientists in the field of mining,” Rep. Hardy said.
“The Environmental Protection Agency has been plagued by lackluster response rates for years. The negligent actions that led to the Animas River spill in Colorado last August are just the latest example of its poor efforts,” Rep. Hice said. “To that end, I’ve introduced H.R. 3844, the ‘Bureau of Land Management Foundation Act.’ This legislation addresses the need to implement private sector procedures to prevent future mine spills. With consultation from both sides of the aisle, I am proud to see spill prevention methods move forward through the passage of my bill in the Natural Resources Committee.”
"As Coloradans know all too well with last year’s disastrous spills at the Gold King and Standard Mines, the abandoned mine land issue is a ticking time bomb—especially when a federal agency lacks the necessary expertise. There are as many as 400,000 abandoned mines across the West, some of which pose serious safety hazards and environmental risks. This legislation will eliminate the financial hardship of mine cleanup, incentivize the private sector to do their part for the environment, remove crushing overregulation and invest in the education of engineers,” Rep. Lamborn stated.
“I appreciate Chairman Bishop and Rep. Lamborn’s willingness to work with me to get this important language inserted to ensure that we do not have another disaster like that caused by the EPA’s reckless actions at the Gold King Mine,” Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) stated. “Good Samaritan legislation is the most promising approach to expediting the cleanup of contaminated water in abandoned mine sites throughout Colorado and the West, and I applaud Chairman Bishop’s focus and commitment to moving the ball forward on this critical issue.”Click here to view the full list of bills considered at today’s Full Committee markup. Read More
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