Committee on Natural Resources

Doc Hastings

ICYMI: Lawmakers urge agencies to cut red tape on power-line maintenance


ICYMI: Lawmakers urge agencies to cut red tape on power-line maintenance
Phil Taylor
E&E Daily
Published: Thursday, May 8, 2014

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.

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18 Members of Congress Question the Interior Department’s Bias & Lack of Transparency with Federal Sage Grouse Science


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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Obama Admin. Agrees to Extend Comment Period On Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo Critical Habitat Proposal


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.”

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Hastings: President Unilaterally Designates New National Monument, Circumventing Local Opposition


House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) released the following statement regarding President Obama’s announcement to unilaterally designate almost half of the Angeles National forest as the San Gabriel National Monument amid local opposition and without public input.

“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.” 


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Representatives from 11 States Call for Extended Comment Period in Yellow-Billed Cuckoo ESA Listing & Habitat Rules


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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President Obama Touts America’s Natural Gas Resources BUT Stands in the Way of Production


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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Hastings Praises Decision to Reinstate Bonneville Power Admin’s Human Resources Authorities


House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) released the following statement today after the Department of Energy announced that it would restore the Bonneville Power Administration’s (BPA) Human Resources authorities:

“Today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Energy is a positive step towards fully restoring the BPA’s long-held regional autonomy. The actions taken to correct past unfair hiring practices at the BPA will ultimately help restore and support its important mission to provide clean and affordable power to many American families and small businesses in the Pacific Northwest. To finally put this issue to rest, however, the Obama Administration must also restore the normal chain of command for BPA’s General Counsel position. Bonneville’s decision-making autonomy depends upon having sound legal services in the region, not at the Department of Energy.”

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Obama Admin. Admits that Increased U.S. Oil Production Lowers Prices


In a recent interview, the Chief of the Obama Administration’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) discussed how increased American oil production is helping to prevent price spikes in the world oil market.  As reported by Reuters:

“Crude oil would cost at least $150 a barrel due to supply disruptions in the Middle East and North Africa were it not for rising production in North Dakota and Texas, U.S. Energy Information Administration chief Adam Sieminski said in an interview on Wednesday…That new oil has helped the United States weather supply disruptions from Libya, Iraq and other one-time major oil producers in which political and military turmoil has sharply depressed production, Sieminski said ahead of the North Dakota Petroleum Council's annual meeting.”

This raises two important points.

  1. It proves, as Republicans have been saying all along, that increasing U.S. energy production is the best way to help lower prices.
  2. Oil prices could be EVEN LOWER if the Obama Administration would stop blocking increased American energy production on federal lands.  The current increase in American oil production is happening solely on state and private lands that are largely out of reach of Obama Administration’s restrictive energy policies and regulations.  Under President Obama’s leadership:
  • Total federal oil production has dropped 6%
  • Offshore, oil production has dropped by 13%
  • Onshore, the Obama Administration has had the four lowest years of federal acres leased for energy production – going back to 1988.
  • Over 87% of our offshore acreage is off-limits to oil and natural gas production.

The House of Representatives has acted to increase American energy production by approving H.R. 2, the American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act.  This bipartisan legislation would help to further lower energy prices and put Americans back to work by promoting new federal offshore and onshore American energy production.


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Obama’s Unilateral Marine Monument Designation will Hurt Economy, Fishermen


House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) released the following statement regarding President Obama’s unilateral expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument under the Antiquities Act:

 “President Obama has repeatedly taken unilateral action to lock-up federal lands, and now he's doing the same thing to our oceans. There has been significant public opposition to the expansion of this marine monument along with questions about the scientific validity. But instead of going through an open, public review process, the Administration chose to forge ahead and take secret, unilateral action. This is yet another example of the Imperial President moving forward with his plans to impose ocean zoning. The economic consequences of this decision will be grave, further eroding the U.S. seafood industry and harming the well-being of the U.S. territories.”


Members of the House Natural Resources Committee have introduced and advanced legislation to protect fisheries within monuments and prevent the unilateral designation of marine monuments. 

H.R. 4742, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, introduced by Chairman Hastings, includes a provision that fisheries within a monument of a sanctuary would be managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. 

H.R. 4988, the Marine Access and State Transparency Act, introduced by Rep. Steve Southerland (FL-02), would require Congressional approval of any marine monument designated under the Antiquities Act and require the consent of any affected Governors.


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Chairman Hastings: Now Is The Time For the Senate To Act on Job-Creating Legislation


Today, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) released the following statement following passage of H.R. 4, the Jobs for America Act, by a bipartisan vote of 253-163. This legislation included H.R. 1526, the Restoring Heathy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, sponsored by Chairman Doc Hastings and H.R. 761, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013, sponsored by Rep. Mark Amodei (NV 02).

“Today, the House not only renewed its commitment to create jobs in America, but renewed its commitment to rural communities dependent on our national forests for their livelihoods, renewed its commitment to restore forest health and to prevent catastrophic wildfire, and renewed its commitment to more efficiently develop our nation’s critical and strategic minerals. This legislation includes important measures to create a long-term, sustainable solution to the mismanagement of our federal forests by requiring responsible timber production and to cut red-tape, frivolous lawsuits, and the burdensome permitting process for mineral development.  America’s natural resources, including our National forests and critical and strategic mineral reserves, continue to serve as an economic engine, job creator, and backbone to our modern industrialized economy. It’s now time for the Senate to act on these important job-creating measures.”

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