House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (OK-03), and 11 Members of Congress recently sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asking for a copy of a report, as required by law, on the cost and effectiveness of the Department’s conservation measures for the lesser prairie chicken.
The Agricultural Act Conference Report, passed by the House in January and signed by the President in February (P.L. 113-79), requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to submit the report within 90 days. More than 150 days have elapsed, and the Department has not provided a copy of the report to Congress.
“This report is perhaps even more important now, following the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) decision in March 2014 to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In our view, it is unfortunate that this listing, driven by the Department of the Interior's settlement deadline negotiated with certain groups, proceeded despite the FWS' approval last fall of a comprehensive five-state rangewide plan that is already demonstrating positive results for the lesser prairie chicken,” wrote the Members in the letter. “We request that your Department provide this report immediately to appropriate Committees as required by the law, so that millions of private landowners, states and other stakeholders that are investing significant resources for conservation of this species can ensure that the cost and effectiveness of federal programs are being properly accounted for, and to provide Congress information it requested prior to the listing.”
Click here to read a full copy of the letter.
“After nearly five years of delays, I’m pleased to finally see the Administration moving forward to allow seismic exploration in the Atlantic OCS. Seismic exploration is the first step needed to ensure new offshore energy production in the Atlantic and new opportunities for job creation. It’s unacceptable that we are still relying on data from the 1970s and earlier to inform us of our available oil and natural gas resources today. The issuance of the ROD is long overdue, and therefore welcome. However, I remain concerned that BOEM has chosen a pathway that varies so greatly from our successful and safe seismic permitting process currently utilized in the Gulf of Mexico, which is based on decades of sound science. We will continue to monitor the implementation of this process in order to ensure that seismic exploration in the Atlantic is not further delayed. The safe and responsible development of our Atlantic OCS is integral to an energy strategy that produces American energy, promotes job growth, and further solidifies our national security in these uncertain times.”
Today, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing on the “Implementation and Administration of the 2013 Helium Stewardship Act.” This hearing examined what steps are being taken to comply with H.R. 527, the Helium Stewardship Act that was signed into law, Public Law 113-40, on October 2, 2013 as a result of bipartisan efforts in the House and the Senate.
Also at the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (CO-05) announced that he and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-05) are releasing a discussion draft of new legislation, The American Helium Security Act of 2014. This draft legislation would help solve the need for a more secure and reliable domestic supply of helium to fulfill our Nation’s future needs.
“The goal of what we are calling ‘Helium II’ is to secure and encourage future production of domestic helium, ensure helium producers have the regulatory certainty they need to explore for and produce helium on federal lands and facilitate a private domestic market for U.S. helium. This proposed legislation will create a federal leasing program for helium on federal lands and ensure a secure supply of domestic helium for national defense, federal researchers and other industries that depend on helium for their business,” said Subcommittee Chairman Lamborn.
At the hearing, Members and witnesses examined how the Helium Stewardship Act is being implemented and areas for improvements.
“The goal of the Helium Stewardship Act is to ensure the taxpayers receive a fair value for this federal resource and to create a free-market for federal helium sales…BLM’s successful implementation of this law will be measured by the amount of competition in the helium sale, the helium price, and the ability by non-refiners to process and toll their purchased helium,” said Subcommittee Chairman Lamborn.
Anne-Marie Fennell, Director of Natural Resources and Environment at the Government Accountability Office, identified specific areas where the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) can better implement the law.
With regards to excess refining capacity, Fennell stated in her testimony that the “BLM does not know how the refiners calculated the amounts [of excess refining capacity] they reported and whether the refiners calculated the amounts in the same way.” When helium is purchased from the Federal Helium Reserve, it is transferred via pipeline to refineries. In order to make sure nonrefiners have the opportunity to sell the helium, the nonrefiners rely on the excess refining capacity of the refiners. This excess refining capacity is vital to nonrefiners because it allows them to compete with refiners in the helium marketplace. Right now, there is no way to ensure the accuracy of the excess refining capacities reported by the refiners. In order to better implement this law, the BLM needs to make sure that excess refining capacities are better reported and verified. This will ensure that everyone involved in the process is benefiting from the demands of an open helium marketplace.
Fennell also testified on commercially reasonable rates, which are the rates that refiners charge nonrefiners to refine helium in the refiners’ excess capacity. Fennell stated that “BLM is also challenged in determining whether refiners that reported having excess refining capacity are offering tolling [refining] services at ‘commercially reasonable rates,’ as required by the act.” BLM must take steps to ensure that refiners are charging commercially reasonable rates to nonrefiners for refining services. This will ensure true competition in the helium marketplace by allowing the market to determine commercially reasonable rates for refining services.
To learn more about H.R. 527, click here.
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“Last fall, the House passed H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, with bipartisan support. We greatly appreciate your leadership in bringing this critical legislation to the floor. This legislation would restore balance to federal land management by emphasizing responsible timber production in environmentally appropriate areas and encouraging greater involvement in decision making by states and local communities,” wrote the Members in the letter. “With so many forest communities continuing to suffer economically, and with the ongoing threat of severe wildfires this summer, we are disappointed that the Senate has thus far failed to engage on this important issue. We are concerned that the Senate may sidestep the tough policy decisions involved by forwarding to the House certain place-based proposals that apply only to limited areas…Instead, we ask that you insist on broader policy solutions that help forest communities across the country.”
Click here to read the letter.
H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, was passed by the House of Representatives on September 20, 2013. This bipartisan, comprehensive legislation renews the federal government’s commitment to manage federal forests for the benefit of rural schools and counties. It would create over 200,000 direct and indirect jobs; provide stable funding for counties to use for education and infrastructure; provide nearly $400 million in savings over 10 years; and help reduce the risk of wildfires. To learn more about H.R. 1526, click here.
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House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04), released the following statement on the Senate’s passage of 16 natural resources bills last night:
“I applaud the Senate’s bipartisan action to pass sixteen bills under the jurisdiction of the House Natural Resources Committee. This is a positive sign that public lands bills important to states and communities across the country can be successfully enacted by the Congress. Ten bipartisan House bills will go to the President to become law, and six Senate bills will arrive here in the House where it’s my hope we can begin work on them this month. As Chairman of the House Committee, I intend to continue ongoing discussions with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol to seek agreement to address additional priorities that protect historic and special places, ensure public access to public lands, resolve local community issues, and facilitate common sense economic development. I’m hopeful the Senate’s action will provide momentum for further legislative progress in the near future.”
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Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) expressed appreciation for the Western Governors’ bipartisan letter. “With the important role that states are playing to help keep species off of the ESA list, I am pleased Western Governors agree that common sense, targeted reforms can improve the ESA while protecting state data and landowners rights. Earlier this year, the House Natural Resources Committee passed four bills intended to do that. We look forward to working with our colleagues in the House to improve ESA listing data and litigation transparency and other measures to focus resources on actual data and recovery of species, rather than on lawyers.”
Western Caucus Co-Chairman Cynthia Lummis (WY-at large) stated, “I am very pleased that our western governors are adding their voice to the ESA reform effort. The whole point of this reform effort is to find ways to bring the ESA into the 21st century, and enhancing the role of the states is a critical component. States care deeply about conservation and have proven their abilities to understand firsthand the needs of both the species and people. They have led the way on species science, species conservation, and species recovery. It’s high time we recognize the importance of the states in ESA decision-making.”
“Right now, American families and small businesses are feeling the squeeze of high gasoline prices, which are a drain to our entire economy. Since President Obama took office, gasoline prices have doubled and our federal energy resources have been put under tight lock-and-key. The passage of this bipartisan common sense plan is a bold step forward to unlocking America’s energy resources that will create over one million new American jobs, strengthen national security, improve our economy, and help ease the pain at the pump for every American,” said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04).
The Lowering Gasoline Prices to Fuel an America that works Act will help end the era of four-dollar per gallon gasoline prices by responsibly expanding American energy production. H.R. 4899 would implement a drill-smart, job-creation plan that would require the Administration to move forward with new offshore energy production in areas containing the most oil and natural gas resources and require the Administration to hold specific offshore lease sales, including off the coast of Virginia, that were delayed or canceled. The bill would increase onshore federal energy production by reforming and streamlining the leasing and permitting process, encouraging the development of U.S. oil shale resources, and expanding production in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPR-A).
For more information, visit http://naturalresources.house.gov/legislation/hr4899
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Mr. Chairman –
Americans are all too familiar with the economic hardships caused by four-dollar gasoline prices. I routinely hear from families in my Central Washington district whose budgets are already being stretched thin and can’t afford the rising prices at the pump. Commuting to work, running the kids to after school activities, and putting food on the table are all becoming increasingly difficult to afford.
The pain is not only being felt during our trips to the gas station - high gasoline prices are a drain on our entire economy. That means that school districts juggle to operate bus routes, that cities grapple with the cost of sending police cars on patrol, and that businesses adjust budgets that can affect the hiring of new employees.
The good news is that four-dollar gasoline doesn’t have to be our reality. The U.S. is blessed with an abundance of oil and natural gas resources that can lower energy prices and grow our economy. H.R. 4899, the Lowering Gasoline Prices to Fuel an America that Works Act, is common sense legislation to responsibly harness the American energy resources we have right here at home.
The Obama Administration has spent the last five and a half years placing our energy resources on federal lands and waters under tight lock-and-key. Offshore areas have been placed off-limits, scheduled exploration off Virginia was canceled, and over half of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) has been closed to energy production. That’s why it’s no surprise that since President Obama took office, total federal oil production has dropped six percent and total natural gas production has dropped 28 percent. Meanwhile, gasoline prices have doubled during Obama’s presidency.
H.R. 4899 would reverse this trend and unlock our American energy. The bill would implement a drill-smart plan that would expand offshore energy production and safely open new areas that contain the most oil and natural gas resources – such as the Mid-Atlantic, Southern Pacific, and Arctic. It would require the Secretary to conduct specific oil and natural gas lease sales, including offshore Virginia that was delayed and then canceled by the Obama Administration. The bill would also establish fair and equitable revenue sharing for all coastal states and improve safety by reorganizing the Interior Department’s offshore energy agencies.
In addition to increased offshore energy production, the bill would also help expand onshore oil and natural gas production on federal lands. It would reform the leasing and streamline the permitting process, encourage the development of U.S. oil shale resources, expand production in the NPR-A, and much more.
While these policies will help lower gasoline prices, it will also create over 1.2 million new American jobs and generate over 1.7 billion in new revenue. This bill is a win for our economy and a win for jobs.
It’s also important for our national security. The current turmoil in Iraq has already caused the price of gasoline to increase and serves as an important reminder of why we need to increase production here at home. The best way to protect ourselves from price spikes caused by international conflicts is to increase production of American energy resources.
As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, the recent energy boom here in the U.S. is ‘putting slack in the global oil market.’ A senior petroleum analyst noted regarding the recent conflict in Iraq, ‘If this were 2005 we would have seen a 20-30 cent jump in gas prices. But it’s lower today because domestic energy production is so much higher.’
However, all the increase in U.S. energy production is happening on state and private lands. As I previously noted, oil and natural gas production on federals lands has declined under President Obama. We can and should be doing so much more when it comes to American produced energy. And doing so will further strengthen our energy security and reduce our reliance on OPEC.
Finally, we need to take action now because the Obama Administration just announced the start of work on the next five-year offshore drilling plan. With this bill, Congress can advance a responsible plan for developing America’s resources. The President’s current plan closes over 85 percent of offshore areas to energy production and includes the lowest number of lease sales ever offered in a five-year plan. The Administration’s restrictive policies should not continue for another five years. That’s why there needs to be a new plan, as outlined in our bill, that opens new areas and helps put a million more Americans back to work.
H.R. 4489 will ease the pain at the pump for American families and small businesses and eliminate federal government hurdles that keep American energy locked-up. It’s good for our economy, good for jobs, and strengthens our national security. I urge my colleagues to support this common sense bill and reserve the balance of my time.
Today, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing entitled “American Energy Jobs: Opportunities for Education.” This hearing examined the new job opportunities that the American energy boom has created and how America’s educational institutions are creating a skilled and educated workforce that’s crucial to the continued growth of the energy sector.
Since 2003, America’s increase in energy production has added more than 400,000 direct energy jobs to the U.S. economy and millions more indirect jobs. This rise in energy production is only occurring on state and private lands while energy production is rapidly decreasing on federal lands. This underscores the need for important legislation like H.R. 4899, the Lowering Gasoline Prices to Fuel an America that Works Act. This common sense legislation will ensure that this growth in energy production continues well into the future on federal, state, and private lands. This would only heighten the need for more educational programs to prepare the next generation of students to meet growing workforce needs in the energy sector.
“This boom in energy development is generating a demand for skilled workers in a broad array of economic sectors, which poses both opportunities and challenges for policymakers, businesses and job seekers. Simply looking at the employment needs in energy producing states shows that these jobs, in oil and gas specifically, are plentiful and skilled workers are in demand,” said Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (CO-05). “Universities and community colleges are working hand in hand with the energy industry to tailor their programs to the needs of the industry. This not only includes creating and reinforcing the requisite educational programs, but offering students internship and apprentice opportunities in the industry and bringing in highly qualified industry professionals to teach students the skills needed to succeed in the industry.”
Witnesses at the hearing shared their personal accounts of how educational institutions are meeting this increased demand for skilled labor and how this surge in American energy production is creating well-paying jobs for this growing workforce.
Mark Volk is President of Lackawanna College, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the center of energy production in the Marcellus Shale where the unemployment rate in the area is “one of the lowest in the Commonwealth at just 5.4% - down from 8.2% in 2009.” When the development of the Marcellus Shale started, Lackawanna College “identified the technical human resource needs of the oil and natural gas industry – and began to position the school to take a leadership position in educating future workers according to those needs.” Since then, “Lackawanna College today is placing students at a near 100% rate within the industry in positions paying well above salaries typically seen in our region.” Students completing these programs are entering a workforce where average annual wages are just over $80,000 in Pennsylvania.
Duane Hrncir, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, Utah, echoed the need for these programs and the growth of students who are enrolling saying “enrollment is growing at about 5% spurred largely by our reputation for providing strong technical skills with leadership opportunities.” Hrncir touted the school’s “98% placement rate” for graduates and how it is “one of the top ten schools in the country for return on investment for a college education” when the “average starting salary of our baccalaureate graduates is over $62,000” – well above the national average. Underscoring the need for institutions like the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Hrncir added, “through research and teaching, universities like the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology are advancing knowledge and preparing leaders in science and engineering for American industry, including the booming energy industry that surrounds the upper mid-west.”
Matthew M. Kropf, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Petroleum Technology and Energy Science and Technology at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, called education “the single factor responsible for enabling the current energy boom” adding that there is a “significant need for skilled oil and gas workers to replace an aging workforce.” In order to meet the demands of a growing energy industry, Kropf told the Subcommittee that the University of Pittsburgh has “updated the curriculum to include courses pertinent to today’s energy field, namely advanced drilling and completions technologies and geology of sedimentary shale basins.” Kropf agreed with other witnesses that “the current energy boom has created significant educational opportunities in both the short and long term.”
Seth N. Lyman, Ph.D.,Director of the Bingham Entrepreneurship and Energy Research Center at Utah State University, added that the “recent growth in oil and natural gas production has created unique challenges and opportunities for the institutions of higher education that serve our region.” Recognizing the community’s recent increase in the demand for higher education and oil and gas development, Utah State University now offers “38 degrees to more than 1,000 students who attend the Uintah Basin Campus” while adding “specific training programs to further support the oil and gas industry: petroleum engineering, safety, and well-control, to name a few” at the Uintah Basin Applied Technical College.
Marlene S. McMichael, CPM, is the Associate Vice Chancellor of Government Affairs at Texas State Technical College (TSTC). McMichael highlighted how TSTC has the “will and the capacity to train students to fill the growing demand for skilled workers.” The energy industry plays a significant role in Texas’ economy. McMichael added that “Texas has been a leader in the energy sector; however, recent growth in that sector has been exponential. That means skilled workers from all backgrounds will have access to a wide array of jobs. TSTC’s partnerships with industry ensure that students graduate with job-ready skills which match or exceed industry standards.”
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The proposed “Waters of the U.S.” regulation and the U.S. Forest Service’s Groundwater Directive are additional measures proposed by the Obama Administration that many believe are land and water grabs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S. Forest Service) and Bureau of Reclamation refused the Committee’s invitation to send witnesses to testify and answer questions regarding the proposed regulations. At the beginning of today's hearing, the House and Senate Western Caucus and Water and Power Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock released a letter from House Members and Senators across the country urging U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to withdraw the Groundwater Directive.
“I believe that these proposals open a new chapter in executive agencies running amok – seizing powers by their own edicts that have been specifically denied them by the legislation that created them in the first place,” said Subcommittee on Water and Power Chairman Tom McClintock (CA-04). “They fundamentally alter the relationship between the legislative and executive branches and the relationship between the states and the federal government - all in a manner wholly antithetical to the structure and construct of our system of check and balances and of the sworn duty of every official to abide by the laws and Constitution.”
“We can foster water development for people and species if the federal government chooses not to erect hurdles to new projects. Yet, the two proposals in front of us – the EPA’s ‘Waters of the U.S.’ and the Forest Service’s new ‘Groundwater Directive’ do nothing more than make it more difficult to rehabilitate or build new projects that benefit agriculture, municipalities, species and habitat,” said House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04).
Witnesses at the hearing testified on the impacts of the proposed Obama Administration regulations, including higher food, water, and electricity costs, undermining of states’ rights; and current and future water supply infrastructure.
Mr. Patrick Tyrrell, State Engineer, State of Wyoming, testified how the Forest Service’s Groundwater Directive will fundamentally change federal water management and harm states’ rights. “It changes the Forest Service's national policy on water management and challenges Wyoming’s authority over groundwater within our borders, including Wyoming’s primacy in appropriation, allocation and development of groundwater. The USFS states that this Proposed Directive does not harm State rights. This is not accurate. The assumptions, definitions, and new permitting considerations contemplated under the Proposed Directive materially interfere with Wyoming’s authority over surface and groundwater, and will negatively impact the State’s water users.”
Mr. Larry Martin, National Water Resources Association, testified that the Waters of the U.S. rule will create new federal permitting schemes. "Many geologic and man-made water related features common to the arid West, including ditches, dry arroyos, washes, and ephemeral streams that flow only in response to agricultural return flows or infrequent storm events will now become subject to federal jurisdiction and permitting.
Mr. Randy Parker, Chief Executive Officer, Utah Farm Bureau Federation, discussed the impacts of the proposed regulations on the agriculture and food production. “The pervasive culture and attitude of the leaders and employees of the United States Forest Service has become even more confrontational during the Obama Administration. They are seeking to exercise greater control over the System lands that includes reductions in grazing rights, controlling water and challenging access. These detrimental actions are seemingly without regard for the history, culture and economics as required by federal laws including the Federal Land Policy Management Act.”
Mr. Rodger Clark, Director, Engineering and Operations, Associated Electric Cooperative, Inc, demonstrated that the Waters of the U.S. rule could increase permitting costs to ratepayers from the proposed regulations. “We are concerned that under the proposed rule, transmission rights of way may be considered waters of the U.S. Transmission rights of way are often simple ditches alongside roads. These ditches receive road runoff, which could grow cattails even though they infrequently hold water. EPA and the Corps have said that they are exempting ditches that drain only upland and are constructed in uplands, but the term “upland” is not defined. This gives the federal government the final say on whether or not ditches are eligible for the exemption.”
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