The U.S. Capitol Historical Society last night unveiled the official portrait of House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04). Chairman Hastings, first elected to Congress in 1994, was selected by his colleagues at the beginning of the 111th Congress to serve as the top Republican on the House Committee on Natural Resources and served as Chairman of the Committee during the 112th and 113th Congresses.
Chairman Hastings’s wife Claire, their three children and spouses, their eight grandchildren, and two of his brothers helped unveil the portrait. The reception, emceed by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, featured remarks from Speaker John Boehner - who accepted the portrait into the House collection, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Peter Defazio.
Chairman Hastings and his wife selected Michele Rushworth of Washington state to paint the portrait. The portrait features items of personal significance to the Chairman including: a bust of President Ronald Reagan, for whom he was a delegate to the 1976 Republican National Convention; the “Contract with America” ring commemorates his first election in the historic 1994 elections that resulted in the first Republican Majority in the House since 1954; and the handmade gavel that was presented to him by his staff upon becoming Chairman in 2011.
Michele Rushworth has been a professional artist for over 25 years. Her commissions include the official portrait of Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz, Coast Guard Commandants Thad Allen and Robert Papp, five federal judges, and the official portraits of nine state governors.
The portrait will hang in the House Natural Resources Committee hearing room in the Longworth House Office Building.
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Today, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing on “Volcano Hazards: Exploring the National Preparation and Response Strategy.” This hearing examined the current state of volcanic hazards in the United States and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Volcano Hazards Program that is designed to address these hazards, alert communities to pending eruptions, and mitigate devastating impacts to communities.
"This hearing is particularly timely as all American’s have been watching the devastation of a slow moving lava flow on the Hawaiian community of Pahoa. This particular flow began in June and has damaged roads, partially covered a cemetery and burned down two structures,” said Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn. "USGS monitors and assesses the Nation’s volcanic hazards and works with other countries to do the same. However, while USGS administers this burden, this is a program that has for too long gone unauthorized by Congress. As has been stated before, as the authorizing Committee in Congress the oversight we hold here today will help us understand and review the programs operating at USGS and clarify what steps can be taken to improve the operations through formal Congressional Authorization in the future.”
Witnesses at the hearing gave an overview of the current volcanic hazards in the United States and highlighted the need for robust volcano hazard monitoring and preparedness in order to mitigate the potential devastating effects of volcano eruption activity.
Dr. Charles Mandeville is the Volcano Hazards Program Coordinator at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at the Department of the Interior. According to the USGS, “the United States is one of the most volcanically active nations in the world” and there are “169 potentially active volcanoes in the United States.” Mandeville underscored the importance of volcano hazard preparedness that enables “the public to move themselves and their property out of harm’s way before the eruption occurs. Emergency managers, critical infrastructure operators, the military, and the general public can plan actions to mitigate the effects of volcanic ash or lahars (volcanic mudflows) once an eruption begins.”
Thomas A. Drean is the State Geologist and Director of the Wyoming State Geological Survey. If Wyoming was an independent nation, it would be the 10th largest energy producer in the world and 3rd largest exporter of energy in the world. Since the production of energy and natural resources is vital to Wyoming, “an interruption of it due to significant geological hazard event such as a major volcanic eruption would have substantial impact on humans and the economy.” Even though there is less than a 1 percent chance that a very large explosive event will take place in this century like the large explosive eruptions that occurred in Yellowstone over 70,000 years ago, Dean stated that “providing ample warning of a potential volcanic event in Yellowstone is of paramount importance for local, regional and national awareness and preparedness.”
Dr. Shanaka de Silva is a Professor of Geology and Geophysics at Oregon State University’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. De Silva called volcano monitoring infrastructure “critical” to monitoring activity beneath the ground and underscored the importance of installing seismic networks and other sensors many years before any volcanic unrest begins. By having this infrastructure in place, there is a benchmark to measure new volcanic activity and detect potential new volcanic hazards that are real threats to the economy, infrastructure, and the people of the United States.
“Despite the considerable work and significant investments from the states of Colorado and Utah, the Obama Administration took a drastic step today by listing the Gunnison Sage-Grouse as threatened. This decision is further evidence that the Administration is more interested in meeting arbitrary settlement deadlines than basing decisions on actual science and data. This action puts in jobs across the West in jeopardy and will severely restrict job-creating economic activities on over a million acres, including residential and commercial development, energy production, power transmission line maintenance, recreation, and grazing. All this for a species that Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe admits is not currently facing extinction.
“The Obama Administration is once again defying its claim to make regulatory policies transparent to the American people. That is why earlier this year the House of Representatives passed common sense legislation to update the Endangered Species Act and make the law more effective for species and people by using the best available science and increasing transparency, including the work of states, local stakeholders, and communities.
“This listing follows hundreds of other listings resulting from the 2011 mega-settlement between the Department of the Interior and two litigious groups. It foreshadows the intentions of the Obama Administration in coming months with the potential listing of the Greater Sage Grouse in portions of eleven western states.”
In a rare show of bipartisanship, Republicans and Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee yesterday urged federal agencies to make it easier for utilities to manage power lines crossing federal forests.
The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management were accused of being too slow and burdensome in allowing electric companies to conduct routine maintenance and clear hazard trees from their power lines.
In another case, a federal power marketing agency was asked to reapply for rights of way through federal lands that it has owned for several decades.
The delays threaten to harm utility ratepayers, cause blackouts or spark wildfires that can further damage transmission infrastructure and wildlife habitat, members and witnesses warned.
"It's pretty amazing we have to be here again today more than a decade later to try to sort this out among the federal agencies," ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said. "I hope we don't have to pass legislation to force common sense on the disparate federal agencies."
Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), who presided over most of the hearing, said testimony by utility officials yesterday showed the "lack of uniformity" in federal policy for reducing the threat of hazard trees to critical infrastructure. It also revealed an "untenable liability" the impedes agencies' ability to clear hazard trees that could spark catastrophic wildfires, he said.
"Under the status quo, determinations about whether or not to address emergency circumstances are too often dependent on the whims of local land managers, and utilities are prohibited from removing hazardous trees that threaten their lines, but are held strictly liable if the federal government fails to do its job and address hazards on lands they manage," Tipton said. "This has to change."
David Markham, CEO of the Central Electric Cooperative Inc. in Oregon, said it had taken the Forest Service nine months to approve his company's request to replace a 2.1-mile section of underground cable immediately adjacent to a well-developed road. Such a request would take a month to process on non-federal lands, he said.
When Central Electric asked to move a power pole 6 feet, the Forest Service said it would require an archaeologist to inspect the site and perform shovel probes.
"We've been doing maintenance on this power line for 50 years and, seriously, if there was a dinosaur fossil or fossilized dinosaur, we would have found it by now," he said, adding that the relationship between utilities and federal lands agencies in Oregon has "really deteriorated."
That spells trouble for ratepayers, considering that 56 percent of the land in Central Electric's service territory is on federal lands, he said.
Randall Miller, a vegetation management specialist for PacifiCorp, said his company's lines cross 33 national forests, about a half-dozen national parks and one wildlife refuge but that even within those, agencies' employees differ in how they process right of way proposals.
"We cannot accept a patchwork of decisionmakers on a local basis who may or may not understand the larger issues or the importance of the electrical grid to us," he said. "We need to have continuity of policy and decisionmaking on federal lands."
The proximity of trees is also a public safety hazard. The Forest Service reported that in 2013, 113 wildfires were ignited as a result of trees contacting power lines or the arcing of electricity from the power lines to vegetation. In 2012, power line corridors were responsible for 232 wildfires.
Jim Pena, associate deputy chief for the Forest Service, said the Agriculture Department estimates that almost 7,000 miles of transmission lines in the West cross national forests at moderate to high fire risk. Those areas will be a concern as drought, extreme heat and high wind conditions exacerbate wildfire threats to utilities.
But he said utilities do not have to wait for agency approval to treat vegetation that poses an imminent threat to transmission lines.
In a couple of cases, the Forest Service is working with utilities to thin trees outside of rights of way to ensure that potential wildfires burn closer to the ground near the power lines.
But he also said he understands the frustrations of utility officials.
"I have no doubt that the stories that were told here are frustrating," he said. "They'd be frustrating to me. ... If I was a district ranger in that position, I'd be embarrassed. I'd want to take action on it. But I also recognize that it's not as simple. Our line officers are asked to do a lot of things at once."
Both Pena and Ed Roberson, BLM's assistant director for renewable resources and planning, said the agencies plan to sign an updated memorandum of understanding later this year with the Edison Electric Institute to set consistent vegetation maintenance standards between federal land management agencies and utilities.Read More
Today, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04), Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop (UT-01), and 16 Members of Congress sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell expressing ongoing concerns with the Department’s potential future listing of the Greater Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Specifically, the letter notes concerns with the Department’s closed-door and seemingly selective process for evaluating relevant data and science, and failure to adequately coordinate with affected states that are developing their own data and conservation efforts to avoid the need for a listing of the Greater Sage Grouse under the ESA.
Some recent scientific studies indicate that Greater Sage Grouse populations are stable and not declining, contrary to the Interior Department’s findings in reports developed several years ago. Concerns have been raised with the Department’s refusal to consider these recent population and genetic sage grouse studies, and senior Department officials’ focus on adherence to ESA listing deadlines negotiated in a 2011 mega-settlement with litigious groups behind closed-doors.
In the letter, Members question the Department’s scheduling of an upcoming science “workshop” in Fort Collins, Colorado that appears to exclude scientists with relevant expertise in sage grouse population and genetics. They also criticize the significant flaws and lack of transparency of the Department’s scientific conclusions that the Greater Sage Grouse is declining and that several “distinct population segments” warrant listing. This would trigger federal regulatory actions that will affect millions of acres of private, local, state and federal lands throughout portions of eleven western states.
“With less than a year to go before the Department’s self-imposed September 2015 settlement deadline to determine whether to list the Greater Sage Grouse under the ESA, it appears that the Department is blatantly ignoring or downplaying significant flaws and gaps in its own sage grouse data and science, and failing to incorporate recent data that suggests sage grouse populations are stable and not declining. This undermines the Obama Administration’s pledge to ‘ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration,’” wrote Members in the letter. “An independent scientific review of all best available science will work to strengthen trust and credibility in the agencies’ current opaque and flawed science, and better inform the Department and the American public on this important issue.”
To view the full letter, click here.
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House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) released the following statement today after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would extend the public comment period an additional 60 days for the proposed critical habitat designation of the western yellow-billed cuckoo. The Service’s actions are in direct response to a letter sent to the Service’s Director, Dan Ashe, from 18 Members of Congress representing 11 states calling to extend the comment period.
“The listing and proposed designation of hundreds of thousands of acres of critical habitat of the yellow-billed cuckoo is yet another example of the Obama Administration’s actions being driven by a 2011 court mega-settlement, NOT by sound science. This listing would have devastating negative impacts on farmers, ranchers, forest management, small businesses, and American energy production in more than 65 counties in nine states throughout the West — including areas where the bird has never existed before. It is only common sense that the Service extend the comment period to allow a much-needed opportunity for Congress and affected stakeholders to fully review the scope and likely huge economic impacts of this unilateral and arbitrary proposal.”
“Your letter…provides an incomplete picture of the Department’s responses to the Committee’s oversight requests. …The Department’s efforts have fallen far short of its obligation to cooperate with Congressional oversight, needlessly increased the cost and delays for responding, and undermined the Obama Administration’s pledge to be the most transparent in history,” wrote Chairman Hastings in the letter.
Specifically the letter notes:
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“President Obama once again is using unilateral action to lock up hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands, ignoring local input and circumventing Congressional action. Local leaders, business owners, forest management experts, and community members have raised serious economic, recreational public safety, wildfire, and environmental concerns about creating a national monument in the Angeles National forest. President Obama is acting behind closed-doors, leaving local residents in the dark about the impacts and effects of this action.
“Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1459, the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act. This legislation, which would require public participation before a presidentially declared national monument is made official, would have opened the door on the decision to create the San Gabriel National Monument and involved the voices of local citizens. The President appears intent to spend the rest of this year unilaterally locking up our public lands, further reinforcing why this legislation needs to become law.”
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) along with 17 Members of Congress sent a letter to the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe, urging the Service to extend the comment period for the proposed critical habitat designation of the western yellow-billed cuckoo. This proposed listing, driven by a 2011 court mega-settlement and not by sound science, would have devastating negative effects on small businesses, farmers, ranchers, forest management, and American energy production in nine states throughout the West.
“While we oppose this proposed listing proposal, we find it completely unacceptable that the FWS has proposed only 60 days of public comment with no public hearings, effectively shutting out meaningful public comment on a sweeping critical habitat designation proposal of the yellow-billed cuckoo,” wrote Members in the letter. “These habitat designations will cost $3.2 million per year for hundreds of new federal permitting requirements associated with landowners, states and local governments’ activities in designated habitat areas. It is hard to believe that this would not cost much more in direct and indirect costs, regulatory delays and other impediments to vital economic activities.”
This proposal would impact 546,335 acres in more than 65 counties in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. The proposed rule would designate habitat in areas where the cuckoo doesn’t even currently exist.
To view the letter, click here.
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Yesterday, during a speech at Northwestern University, President Obama touted America’s abundant energy resources, including natural gas, and the jobs it provides:
“Our 100-year supply of natural gas is a big factor in drawing jobs back to our shores.”
The President may sing the praises of natural gas in public speeches, but in reality, the actions of his Administration will ultimately stand in the way of increased natural gas production in America.
In 2013, the Obama Administration announced that it was moving forward on a new rule to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands. Hydraulic fracturing is essential to producing natural gas and has been safely and effectively been regulated by the states for over 60 years.
The Administration’s new, duplicative federal regulation would cost American jobs, decrease American energy production, increase energy prices, and harm economic growth. In fact, according to a study by John Dunham and Associates, the proposed regulation would cost at least $345 million annually.
Actions speak far louder than words. President Obama can make speech after speech on the importance of America’s natural gas resources BUT the actions of his Administration tell a far different story.
While President Obama talks a good game, House Republicans have taken real action on numerous occasions to advance energy production in America, create new American jobs, and STOP reckless federal regulations like President Obama’s proposed regulation on hydraulic fracturing.
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