Today, the Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a legislative hearing on the discussion draft of “Locally-elected Officials Cooperating with Agencies in Land Management Act (LOCAL Management Act).”
The enormity of federal land ownership in numerous states has caused immense problems for counties, contributing to diminished tax bases and a range of duplicative and costly regulations that lack local input.
The draft legislation is designed to mitigate these challenges by requiring federal land agencies to more closely consult and cooperate with local governments that are burdened by federal intrusion.
“The most common complaint I hear from locally elected officials in my district is that they are rarely consulted, rarely respected and often bypassed by federal land managers in the decisions that directly affect their communities and the local economy,” Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock (R-CA) said.
Overall, it aims to increase communication between local line officers and localities regarding land use decisions, provide better access to recreational lands and offer a more responsible approach to federal land acquisition.
“Tuolumne County has lived with the Rim Fire Disaster and now the Pervasive Tree Mortality Disaster because coordination was not requested or offered in either the 1991 Stanislaus Forest Plan revision or the 2001 Sierra Nevada Framework. We are living with the consequences of diminished timber infrastructure and workforce resources,” Tuolumne County Supervisor for District 1 Sherri Brennan said.
Specific provisions include the requirement for officers from agencies to attend local government meetings at the request of county officials to improve cooperation with local communities. Panel member Jerrie Tipton, Commission Chair of Mineral County in Nevada, highlighted the importance of the provision that limits land acquisition in the West as it has significant impacts in her local community.
“In Mineral County, just 3.4% of our county is privately held and over half of the private land has no taxable infrastructure associated with it. Any loss of private land in my county can have devastating impacts on both the mandatory and non-mandatory services our county provides,” Tipton stated.
Rep. Cresent Hardy commented on subjects of Tipton’s oral testimony including the non-existent relationship with federal land managers citing issues like the remote location of Mineral County. Her relationship with federal agencies was fully based upon her efforts to get to know the people making decisions that affect her everyday life.
“Cooperative agreement relationships should be between both entities, but in this case the reason you have any relationship at all is because you’ve reached out to those folks,” Hardy said.
Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA) raised concerns with the weight of input given to local communities compared to outside groups with no direct connection to the land in question when creating management plans.
“No, we do not have a weighing system. We don’t currently have a rationale that says local input needs to be weighed more than non-local input,” Deputy Chief of the National Forest System Leslie Weldon responded.
Click here to view the full witness testimony.Read More
Today, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on impediments imposed by federal land management regimes in securing the international borders of the United States.
Federal land management regulations create obstacles for the United States Border Patrol in effectively securing the border. This leaves borderland communities both environmentally degraded and vulnerable to smuggling operations.
“It is a fact that drug cartels and human traffickers have long used our unsecured borders to conduct their operations—and thousands of people have died as a result. […] But federal government has chosen to favor environmental regulations over national security interests and human lives, this emergency continues. […] Traffickers and drug lords could care less about bats, ocelots, and Sonoran Pronghorn. And yet, land managers at the Department of the Interior have blocked Border Patrol from accessing these lands, so that they can secure our borders, enforce our laws, protect tour land, save human lives and our precious species,” Subcommittee Chairman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said.
Panelists shared their personal experiences navigating these dangers, highlighting the continuing need to facilitate border patrol access to federal land. Commissioner of Boundary County, Idaho and former Border Patrol agent, LeAlan Pinkerton, described the environmental regulations restricting border security operations.
“The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managers have affected a number of measures to inhibit the Border Patrol’s ability to access the border areas. They have placed gates on roads not previously gated. They have not provided keys in a timely fashion. They have changed locks on gated roads currently in use without providing keys in advance. They have removed culverts, decommissioned roads, dug tank traps and placed large boulders in roadways, etc. The USFS seldom gives any notification or fore-warning that such measures were scheduled or taking place,” Pinkerton stated.
Witness Tricia Elbrock, testifying on behalf of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, called for a federal overhaul of land use regulations to ensure border security.
“Our region from Arizona to Texas has a wide variety of federally owned lands ranging from the Bureau of Land Management and USFS to wildlife refuges and monuments. Many of these federal designations don’t allow for appropriate surveillance. Mountains near us have been burned to the ground due to fires started by illegals. Federal land use regulations need an overhaul to address the specific and special needs of the borderlands. Law enforcement agencies and the Border Patrol need access to every inch of federal lands to be able to protect our families and communities,” Elbrock stated.
Land managers can take years to issue permits needed to effectively patrol the border, if granted at all. The Committee aims to guarantee access to federal land necessary to install security technology, maintain roads and secure basic patrol access.
“It seems clear to me that we are placing environmental priorities over our national security. It is inexcusable when permitting […] takes so long that what’s needed for border security is no longer applicable,” Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) said.
Click here to view the full witness testimony.Read More
Today, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing on a recent regulation issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding methane on federal lands.
While the BLM has no authority under the Clean Air Act, the rule proposes to greatly expand BLM’s existing regulations to include duplicative measures that further regulate methane emissions under the Mineral Leasing Act.
Oil and natural gas production has increased dramatically on state and private lands while methane emissions have simultaneously decreased. Further, industry has invested billions in infrastructure to increase gas capture rates.
"Federal regulations, like the BLM’s venting and flaring rule that we are examining today, is of such concern to our state and many others," stated Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO). "Particularly when you examine all of the work that states like Colorado have already done to limit methane emissions from oil and gas facilities."
The BLM’s bureaucratic delays for pipeline rights-of-way permit approvals are a major contributing factor to methane flaring. The BLM manual says they aim to process rights-of-way permits within 60 days. However, according to data the BLM submitted to the Committee, this isn’t the case. Not a single area has met the 60-day deadline.
“Here’s the problem. The BLM is crafting a rule to restrict and prohibit certain activities relating to varying flaring and venting and yet the way to stop it is to build pipelines. Yet the BLM’s pipeline rights-of-way delays are part of the problem. Their goal is to have a 60-day pipeline rights-of-way grant. In my state of Wyoming, by the way, it’s two weeks on state land unless there’s sage grouse involved then it takes a little longer. Every state on this list far exceeds the 60-day threshold. New Mexico being the worst. It’s not 60 days, it’s six months. In many of these other states it’s twice the 60-day limit that they have placed on themselves,” Vice Chairman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) said.
Shawn Bolton, Rio Blanco County Commissioner, discussed the impact of these burdensome regulations, highlighting the stark contrast between production on federal and private lands.
“The BLM is consistently adding layers of bureaucracy to handicap oil and gas producers. It appears that the BLM’s focus is to drive more and more operators from federal lands. There is a direct correlation between the impact of the BLM’s overreaching, needless regulations and energy production on federal lands, which already lags far behind production on privately held lands,” Bolton stated.
The panel outlined how the new rule will undercut industry progress to further reduce emissions, result in lost tax royalties, massive compliance costs and far-reaching adverse impacts on the ability of states to administer existing regulatory programs.
“Implementation of this rule will result in an anticipated loss in state revenue from royalties and taxes estimated to be $24 million per year. The impacts from this loss are expected to extend throughout the entire 30 year development life of the Bakken,” Director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms said.
Click here to view the full witness testimony.
Today, the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans held an oversight hearing to examine the limited growth of hydropower and barriers to expansion.
Hydropower is clean, renewable and emissions-free yet still faces large hurdles in the federal regulatory process. Washington state witness Jessica Matlock, Director of Government Relations for Snohomish County Public Utility District No. 1, called for an improved federal hydropower re-licensing process.
“In the modern era, we need to recognize the need for renewables and emissions free energy sources. We need to modernize our regulatory processes and obtain better coordination. One example that we recently went through that we had issues with was a title energy project, the first ever in the nation. It succumbed to current outdated processes. This was our project. We spent 8 years trying to get this permitted that was only supposed to take 6 months. We actually had to end the project because of costs escalating beyond our control because it took us 8 years, ” Matlock said.
California witness Debbie Powell, Senior Director of Power Generation Operations at Pacific Gas and Electric Company, called on Congress to address four areas to overcome hydropower licensing inefficiencies.
“To overcome the existing licensing inefficiencies, while maximizing hydropower’s potential and promoting additional transparency, Congress should focus on addressing the following four areas: improving coordination between federal and State environmental reviews, better defining the extent of authorities by federal agencies, improving federal agency coordination and transparency, and improving federal and State agency coordination and transparency,” Powell stated.
Another California witness Steve Boyd, Director of Water Resources and Regulatory Affairs of the Turlock Irrigation District, commented on the challenges of the current system.
“The Districts want to do the right thing for our community, and the environment, and we think it is fair to want those actions to be based on science and the multiple studies we have conducted based on a collaborative process by all stakeholders. However, what we have found is no desire or incentive for certain resource agencies to engage in a meaningful way, throughout the process, waiting until the end when they have more bargaining power. We believe, when it comes to mandatory conditioning authority, there are no checks in the systems and improvements are needed,” Turlock said.
The chances for development of new hydropower facilities are vast, especially on federal land. However, the permitting process for renewing existing non-federal hydropower and new projects must be improved before substantial development can occur.
“Hydropower is a hidden resource—its blades are often covered by concrete; they don’t spin on mountaintops and they don’t look like giant mirrors, but they have a proven track record of keeping the lights on and actually enable other renewable technologies by acting as their backup battery,” Subcommittee Vice Chair Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said.
Click here to view the full witness testimony.
Today, the Subcommittee on Federal Lands held an oversight hearing on current research efforts and the future of America’s Land-Grant Colleges and Universities (LGU).
A panel of representatives from four LGUs discussed current research in natural resources fields they hope can tackle many of the country’s most pressing challenges, including combatting the spread of invasive plant species, reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfire, and improving water quality and quantity.
LGUs routinely employ innovative techniques to find new and beneficial ways to better care for our nation’s natural resources. Panelists focused heavily on ongoing research to improve forest management and prevent devastating wildfires.
“[O]ur Wildfire and Forest Thinning program has protected and mitigated forested areas in northern and eastern Arizona from the damage and the monetary and human cost of wildfires, and, in doing so, maintaining the watersheds so critical to urban water supplies,” Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona Shane Burgess Ph.D. stated.
The important research done by LGUs inform policymakers, but they are often ignored by federal land management agencies.
“And yet, this good work is disregarded or distorted by federal land management agencies in a manner that threatens environmental and public safety. These Land-Grant Universities must remain immune from the political manipulation that has plagued so many of our public and private universities,” Subcommittee on Federal Lands Chairman Tom McClintock said (R-CA).
Panel member Barry Perryman, Ph.D., Professor of Rangeland Ecology and Management at the University of Nevada – Reno, has consistently found that targeted livestock grazing is an effective tool to change characteristics that fuel catastrophic wildfires and control invasive species. Federal land management agencies, however, largely ignore this research and instead stick to the status quo.
“It is frustrating when researchers see new scientific discoveries being ignored by the very entities that are legally mandated to use the best available science. […] If they ignore or place themselves in a position denying the implementation of new science, I assure you, smoke and ash from the Cinder Bowl will come to Washington D.C.,” Perryman said.
As securing reliable funding is particularly challenging to support ongoing and future research efforts at LGUs, the panel explored alternative revenue streams to support their critical research.
“We do have lands that are identified for disposal if we go back to some of those old concepts. I think we can find a funding source that could provide a great deal of opportunity to increase our understanding of how we can actually manage the land better for a better product so all of us benefit from it,” Full Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) stated.Today there are over 100 LGUs in all 50 states, four territories and D.C. Read More
Today, the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans held a
H.R. 1869 (Rep. Paul Gosar, R-AZ) provides more transparency and reporting related to environmental costs incurred by the federal Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs). Rep. Gosar explained what the legislation aims to accomplish.
“My bipartisan bill requires the PMAs to provide these costs on a monthly basis to their customers. It does not repeal or change any environmental laws; it simply requires transparency and helps those who are paying the bills to better understand what they are actually paying for,” Rep. Gosar said.
Witness Patrick Ledger, CEO of Arizona G&T Cooperatives, and Oregon witness Bo Downen, Senior Policy Analyst of Public Power Council, pointed to the reasons for Rep. Gosar’s bill.
“While many of the dedicated personnel at [the Western Area Power Administration] are willing to share anecdotal information on how environmental compliance affects hydropower generation, the precise cost break down is missing from the public domain,” Ledger said.
“Support for this bill should not depend upon whether you believe these expenditures in the name of fish and wildlife should be lower, higher, or are just about right. The issue here is information,” Downen stated.
H.R. 4582 (Rep. Jeff Denham, R-CA) excludes striped bass from the anadromous fish doubling requirement in the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. Tom Iseman, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), voiced DOI’s support for the “Save Our Salmon Act,” with minor amendments.
“The Department has no concern with the removal of striped bass from the CVPIA’s fish doubling goals,” Iseman said.
California witness Charles Hanson, Senior Fishery Biologist of Hanson Environmental, Inc. and Rep. Denham both commented on the bill.
“Increasing the population of non-native species that prey on protected species is counter-productive to species recovery efforts currently underway in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and surrounding watershed,” Hanson stated.
“Over the past year, a recurring theme in hearings is that predation is a key stressor in efforts to protect fish listed under the Endangered Species Act, especially in California. This bill eliminates a provision that protects non-invasive striped bass to help native salmon. I am grateful for the bipartisan support and local interest that is growing behind my common sense bill,” Rep. Denham said.
House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement upon Senate passage of S.2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015:
“I thank Senator Murkowski for her work on this legislation and congratulate the chamber for acting on a bill. There are a number of additions to the bill added last night through the amendment process that the Committee is still reviewing. There are provisions that certainly need to be addressed but I look forward to conferencing with the Senate and advancing H.R. 8.”
H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, which passed the House in December 2015, included two bipartisan energy infrastructure bills from the Committee on Natural Resources:
Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources held an oversight hearing on the Obama Administration’s expansive new definitions and revised criteria for designating critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act.
Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) argued the new rules allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fisheries Service nearly limitless discretion in restricting private and federal land use. He pointed out the negative impact they will have on the American people.
“These rules will now make it even easier for the federal government to absorb larger and larger swaths of land and water […] from local, state governments and private citizens. […] It’s going to hurt people, and unfortunately those people who are going to be hurt have almost no recourse towards this particular situation,” Bishop said.
The rules usurp Congress’ legislative and constitutional prerogatives, and create sweeping new authorities to designate critical habitat at the agencies’ sole discretion.
“The Services have essentially granted to themselves authority to designate any area that may, someday in the future, become suitable for a species—even in places where there is absolutely no evidence currently that the species have existed there. […] In the future, I expect the agencies to ask Appropriations for tarot cards and ouija boards so they can do the work under this expanded rule," Bishop stated.
Vice Chairman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) highlighted the expected litigious challenges that will result from the new rules and called for an updated conservation strategy.
“Court battles slow down the ability to recover species and steal money from recovery. We need a new 21st century conservation effort that is consistent with the movement that the American people have made in their understanding of sound science. […] We can and should do better for our wildlife,” Lummis stated.
Wyoming witness Karen Budd-Falen, Senior Partner of Budd-Falen Law Offices, LLC, grew up a fifth-generation rancher and commented on the impact the rules will have on the local agriculture community.
“While the agriculture community raised a huge alarm over the ‘waters of the U.S.,’ the Fish and Wildlife Service was quietly implementing these new rules, in a piecemeal manner, without a lot of fanfare. Honestly, I believe these new habitat rules will have as great or greater impact on the private lands and federal land permits […]. I would hope that the outcry from the agriculture community, private property advocates, and our Congressional delegations would be as great,” Budd-Falen said.
Colorado witness Robbie LeValley, County Administrator of Delta County, argued the new rules will not benefit habitat species and will have a negative economic impact on ranchers and rural communities.
“Imposing regulatory change on grazing without any scientific basis is unwarranted and makes it clear that this Administration’s intent is to manage away from productive uses, rather than actually protecting species and their habitat,” LeValley stated.
Highlighting the FWS’s inconsistent track record on ESA implementation, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) asked Dan Ashe, Director of FWS, why—despite growing numbers of wolves—the Service has not finalized its 2013 proposed wolf delisting.
“The wolf is probably one of the most frustrating issues during my tenure as Director. […] We’re kind of like that truck that’s in the mud up to the running board, so you know we can’t go forward and we can’t go backward,” Ashe responded.Read More
Today, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a legislative hearing on H.R. 3881 introduced by Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA), the “Cooperative Management of Mineral Rights Act of 2015.” The bill clarifies and codifies the repeatedly upheld decision by federal courts to protect the rights of private mineral owners in the Allegheny National Forest (ANF).
While the federal government owns the surface rights to ANF, the subsurface mineral rights have always been privately owned – even before the ANF was established. This did not stop the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) from attempting to usurp private property rights and create a new regulatory hoop to restrict energy development in the ANF.
“For nearly a century, landowners have joined with the local and federal government to ensure the continued access to private mineral rights and the continued health of our forest. Despite that partnership, extreme environmental groups attempted to shut down energy production. Federal courts have ruled with the local communities and in favor of private property rights. The Cooperative Management of Mineral Rights Act will make that ruling law, ensure protection of our local economy and continued access to resources for generations to come,” Thompson said.
Federal courts consistently found the USFS lacked the regulatory authority to impose preconditions to development. Pennsylvania is rich in energy resources, but the burdensome overreach of the federal government has undercut private mineral rights, spurring years of litigation and lost economic opportunities for this region of Pennsylvania.
“In less than a decade, Pennsylvania has become second largest producer of natural gas in the United States behind Texas – and has contributed towards our nation’s renewed status in leading global production. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s success also put it directly in the crosshairs of environmental activists focused on banning American energy production in this region and elsewhere,” stated Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO).
H.R. 3881 prevents any future possibility for the Forest Service to infringe upon private property rights by liberally interpreting statutory authority.
“The actions of the U.S. Forest Service are emblematic of federal land management throughout the United States. I want to thank Rep. Thompson for this commonsense legislation that protects families and small businesses of Pennsylvania’s 5th district and the broader region who rely upon these resources in their everyday lives,” Full Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) saidRead More
Today, Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the final well control rule for offshore energy exploration and development. Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:
“I was not alone in pointing out the many failures in the original draft of this rule that would harm existing safety innovation and undercut responsible offshore development. I am pleased to see that our efforts to shed more light throughout this closed-door process yielded modest changes. Development is safely occurring in the Gulf right now, and it will take some time to see how this rule impacts the vast reform that has already been put into place over the past several years.
“As we review the final rule, one thing remains certain: our nation’s regulatory process is broken. In this case, the Administration failed from the get-go by locking technical experts out of the regulatory process until the announcement of our Gulf hearing prompted Interior to begin scheduling technical meetings. We need more transparency and a collaborative dialogue to produce better results for American businesses and families. Nobody cares about safety and environmental stewardship in the Gulf more than the families who live there and proudly produce American energy. Washington owes it to them to not threaten the future existence of their jobs.
“A bureaucrat in Washington will never be able to manufacture and force safety comparable to what industry experts have and continue to create. We urge the Administration to shift their philosophy to one that encourages the production of affordable energy and believes in human ingenuity.”
On April 1, Committee leaders wrote a letter to the Office of Management and Budget highlighting the negative unintended consequences of this rule, urging them to revise the rule and extend public comment. The Administration has yet to respond to this letter.Read More
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