Today, President Obama unilaterally designated three new national monuments in the California desert: Sand to Snow National Monument, Mojave Trails National Monument, and Castle Mountains National Monument. Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:
“This is presidential bullying. The intent of the Antiquities Act is not to act as the President’s magic wand to commandeer land. In order to be good stewards of our environment, we need to allow people to have a say in how they recreate and conserve their land. This doesn’t. It’s an authoritarian act that ignores people under the guise of preservation. The land will not be better protected and people will be harmed.”
Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources released a Majority staff report detailing information uncovered during the Committee’s ongoing investigation of the EPA’s Gold King Mine blowout near Silverton, Colorado in August 2015.
The 73-page report documents the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) and the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) inaccurate and misleading accounts of the events and decisions that led to the blowout and deconstructs their conflicting accounts
“When government actions result in harm, it’s our duty to know who was responsible and why decisions failed. They haven’t been forthcoming in this regard,” Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said. “This report peels back one more layer in what many increasingly view as a pattern of deception on the part of EPA and DOI. We will need heavier efforts to squeeze out the full truth. The agencies continue to withhold information requested by the Committee. They need to come clean and produce the missing documents.”
“After almost six months, we are still trying to get to the bottom of the catastrophic spill and find out who to hold accountable," stated Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Louie Gohmert (R-TX). “If these EPA employees were anything other than government officials, they would have already been on their way to prison wearing orange jumpsuits. This report points out the many inconsistencies within the EPA’s and DOI’s reports on the spill and shines a light on their gross incompetence.”
The Majority’s findings in the report are based on EPA’s Internal Review, released on August 24, 2015, its related Addendum, released on December 8, 2015, the DOI’s Technical Evaluation of the Gold King Mine Incident, released on October 22, 2015, related documents obtained by the Committee from federal agencies and private contractors, and interviews with multiple individuals with firsthand knowledge of the Gold King Mine, the EPA crew’s activities at the site, and the peer review process for the DOI Technical Evaluation.Read More
Yesterday, the Supreme Court stayed the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan in a 5-4 decision. Chairman Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:
“Much of the President’s unilateral agenda, including efforts to stomp out coal without going through Congress, will ultimately be gutted by the courts.
“This ruling is one small win for impoverished coal communities and all Americans who rely on affordable energy. It’s a small win for the rule of law. It’s even a small win for the manatees.
“President Obama has never really cared for the rule of law, and he’s really never quite understood the concept of affordable energy. As a result, his plan to redesign the American economy to run on wind and solar before he leaves office will remain a problem for the White House staff tasked with implementation.”
Click here to view Bishop’s comments on the September 2015 decision by the Federal District Court of Wyoming to halt the Bureau of Land Management's controversial hydraulic fracturing rule.Read More
Today, the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans held an oversight hearing titled, “The Costly Impacts of Predation and Conflicting Federal Statues on Nature and Endangered Fish Species.”
The panel outlined how conflicting federal laws encourage predation of fish species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“The status quo may be working for sea lions and litigators, but it’s not working for the American taxpayer, the electricity ratepayer, fisheries, tribal communities who have worked hard to bring back salmon populations and our food consumers nationwide,” stated Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA). “Today’s hearing is another step towards much-needed change.”
Federal agencies have downplayed the impacts of non-native species predation, as federal, tribal, state and local governments and other entities have spent billions of dollars on ESA-related recovery efforts.
“We actually have some federal laws that make it even harder to recover truly endangered species. […] You can’t make up this contradiction in federal law […] Outdated laws do nothing except line fundraisers and lawyers pockets and prolong a failed status quo,” stated Subcommittee Vice Chairman Paul Gosar (R-AZ).
“Each year in Central Washington, significant resources are spent on hatcheries, fish passage, fish ladders, and other efforts to improve salmon recovery in the Columbia River only to have endangered salmon fall prey to federally-protected predators,” Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) said. “In addition to current conservation efforts, tribes and state governments require updated tools and authorities to manage predatory species to improve survival of salmon and other native species.”
“As testimony from today’s hearing shows, predation continues to seriously threaten California’s efforts to protect native fish species,” Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) stated. “We’re spending millions of dollars and sending millions of the gallons of water to the ocean to try to protect these fish, but we can’t even study the problem. I’ve repeatedly offered legislation to study the impacts non-native predator species have on salmonids, and it’s time the Administration stopped dragging their feet.”
Click here to view the full witness testimony.Read More
Today, the Obama Administration released its budget proposal for the 2017 fiscal year. Chairman Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:
“To defend this budget would require spin with dexterity that only a Las Vegas contortionist can accomplish,” Bishop said.
“President Obama stubs out the last bit of leverage the country has from our recent energy renaissance and told low-income American families to foot the bill on this budget. Levying this tax on affordable energy is a fantasy for President Obama and his pathetic and tiresome attempt to build a legacy with the far left. As he seeks to eliminate opportunities for American citizens with his $10-a-barrel scheme, we lose our competitive edge and are forced to rely upon countries like Iran to meet our energy needs.”
On Federal Land Management:
“This is a missed opportunity for strong stewardship of the land and taxpayer dollars. I expected more from Secretary Jewell’s department. She deserves better material to give Congress than what has been provided to her by the department. Her staff let her down.”
On Lack of Creativity:
“We need creative solutions to sustain and expand a strong and affordable domestic energy portfolio. We need innovative ideas to solve catastrophic wildfires destroying millions of acres of federal forests and severe droughts across the West—not more campaign slogans and regulatory red tape. Our resources present an opportunity for economic growth and energy independence, but the Administration would rather send those jobs overseas and further tax the American people.”
“The only comfort in the president’s budget is knowing it will be his last.”
Puerto Rico and its top advisers made their case in Washington on Friday for a law that would allow broad restructuring of the island’s multibillion-dollar debt, saying that if Congress did not act soon, major defaults were likely this spring.
The officials also said they knew that any legislative help would come at a stiff price: Puerto Rico would have to submit to a federal control board, something viewed by some on the island as colonialist-style interference.
“I think everybody has acknowledged that a control board is an essential feature,” Jim Millstein, a financial adviser to the Puerto Rican government, said in a briefing for staff members of the House of Representatives, which is considering some form of legal help.
For the last week, Puerto Rico has been meeting with creditor groups over the government’s proposal to restructure about $49 billion of its $72 billion total debt. Time is short, officials said, because Puerto Rico cannot pay the big principal and interest payments that are due in May and June.
The island has already defaulted on smaller amounts and is being sued by the affected creditors.
Mr. Millstein and the other officials said they doubted they could get enough creditors to agree to the $49 billion restructuring without the kind of leverage that only an act of Congress could provide.
Negotiating debt relief “is a difficult endeavor in any circumstance,” said Richard J. Cooper, a partner with Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, who is representing Puerto Rico in the talks. “But in the Puerto Rican circumstance, the challenge is quite enormous. That’s why we’ve asked for a restructuring authority.”
The $49 billion debt that Puerto Rico hopes to restructure, most of it in the form of municipal bonds, was issued by 11 separate branches of the Puerto Rican government. It is held by a wide range of investors with diverse and competing interests. They are not only at odds with Puerto Rico, but also with one another, over whose bonds have priority.
Some of the creditors have reason to give concessions, by accepting lower payments, for instance, but others want to hold out for payment in full. Although the bankruptcy code has tools for getting reluctant creditors to go along when a majority agrees to a settlement, Puerto Rico does not have access to bankruptcy.
“Puerto Rico will be thrust into litigation battles, or into a place where you can’t predict what the future is,” Mr. Cooper said.
Mr. Millstein said he envisioned 11 different lawsuits by creditors of the 11 different branches of government, all moving at cross purposes through the courts and getting conflicting rulings by their respective judges. The process could easily drag on for five years, he said.
“The impact of five years of litigation on the economy of Puerto Rico is obvious,” he said. “It would be a bad result. It would make the creditor recoveries even lower.”
As Mr. Millstein spoke, a Treasury official, Antonio Weiss, made a similar argument at the Bipartisan Policy Center, which hosted a panel discussion on a legal framework for resolving Puerto Rico’s crisis.
“Without the backstop of a restructuring authority, our biggest concern is that a decade of recession could become another lost decade,” Mr. Weiss said.
The officials said it was not essential to grant Puerto Rico access to Chapter 9 bankruptcy, an approach that was considered last year but now appears to have been discarded. Instead, they said Congress could enact other measures to help Puerto Rico restructure its debts under the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution.
The most important element would be a mechanism to bind holdouts to agreements by other creditors, they said.
The restructuring plan would cover the $49 billion of debt backed by various types of taxes. Debts backed by user fees and rates, such as revenue bonds issued by Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority, would be handled separately.
To determine how much of the $49 billion Puerto Rico’s taxpayers could reasonably be expected to repay, the officials reviewed the debt burdens of taxpayers in states. They said that the typical state was spending about 5 percent of its tax revenue on payments of interest and principal to bondholders.
But in Puerto Rico, they said, payments on this type of debt were now consuming an unsustainable 36 percent of the island’s tax revenues.
Next, they looked for a state with a financial profile roughly similar to Puerto Rico’s, and decided that Hawaii came closest. In Hawaii, they said, debt payments consume 13 percent of annual tax revenue.
“We thought, ‘We’ve got to be closer to Hawaii,’ ” Mr. Millstein said. “We aimed at 15 percent. That would mean we can’t have debt service in excess of $1.7 billion a year. That’s our upper boundary.”
By spreading $1.7 billion of annual debt-service payments over 30 years and discounting the total at a rate of 5 percent, they came to the conclusion that the taxpayers of Puerto Rico could carry $26.7 billion of debt instead of the current $49 billion.
“That involves, therefore, a $22 billion haircut on the debt, which is huge,” Mr. Millstein said. “There is no way to discount that.”
To give the bondholders some hope of a better recovery, the restructuring proposal would replace investors’ current bonds with two new bonds. One of them would have a fixed interest rate and a total par value of $26.7 billion. The other would make payments only to the extent that Puerto Rico recovers.
The officials also sought to defuse a controversy over Puerto Rico’s failure so far to produce audited financial statements for 2014 and 2015. Some members of Congress, especially Republicans, have warned they will be hard-pressed to assist Puerto Rico if it cannot present basic public records.
Melba Acosta Febo, president of Puerto Rico’s Government Development Bank, said at the Friday briefing that the financial statements were undergoing frequent revision as the island struggled to meet its various obligations.
“We don’t want people to think we’re hiding something, because we’re not hiding anything,” she said. “You have to understand what we’re living with right now.”
Even without the reports for 2014 and 2015, Ms. Acosta said anyone who wanted to understand Puerto Rico’s finances could look at 15 prior years’ worth of financial statements and they would see “deficit after deficit.”
“Trust me, 2014’s going to be the same,” she said. “The situation is just as bad as ever.”Click HERE to read the article online. Read More
Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service announced the finalization of a new policy for defining and designating critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act. Chairman Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:
“Just like we saw with WOTUS, this is another power grab. The new definition injects even more ambiguity and confusion into an already arbitrary process. This Administration doesn’t care if they abuse the law as long as they can exert more control over people. If we’ve learned anything from the Obama Administration’s handling of the endangered manatee, this agenda has nothing to do with improving habitat or protecting species. It’s their way to exert more control disguised as helping animals and the environment.”
Click below to learn more about critical habitat through the Committee’s Federal Footprint Map.
Today, the Committee on Natural Resources passed H.R. 3036 (Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-NJ), the “National 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center Act,” legislation designating the National September 11 Memorial located at the World Trade Center site in New York City, New York, as a national memorial. The legislation passed by unanimous consent in today’s Full Committee markup.
“Rep. MacArthur has worked hard to elevate this issue and build support for this important piece of legislation. I look forward to working with him to move the National 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center Act to the House floor in swift order,” said Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT).
“I was working in New York City when terrorists tore a hole in the skyline and nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives,” said Congressman Tom MacArthur. “We can never forget the tragic events of that day, which have changed our lives forever, and I want to ensure that this memorial site will be here for years to come giving millions of people around the world the chance to honor the lives that were lost that day. A federal recognition of this kind will solidify the memorial’s standing and recognize the endurance of the survivors, the bravery of those that risked their lives to save others, and the power of our free nation to overcome evil with good.”
Click here to learn more about H.R. 3036 and full list of bills to advance today in Full Committee.### Read More
To understand how Puerto Rico’s power authority has piled up $9 billion in debt, one need only visit this bustling city on the northwest coast.
Twenty years ago, it was just another town with dwindling finances. Then, it went on a development spree, thanks to a generous —some might say ill-considered — gift from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.
Today, Aguadilla has 19 city-owned restaurants and a city-owned hotel, a water park billed as biggest in the Caribbean, a minor-league baseball stadium bathed in floodlights and a waterfront studded with dancing fountains and glimmering streetlights.
Most striking is the ice-skating rink. Unusual in a region where the temperature rarely drops below 70 degrees, the rink is complete with a disco ball and laser lights.
Signs warn skaters not to wear shorts.
“Imagine how much it costs to have an ice-skating rink in the tropics,” said Sergio Marxuach, policy director at the Center for a New Economy, a nonpartisan research group in San Juan.
And that is the catch. What most likely would be the biggest recurring expense for these attractions — electricity — costs Aguadilla nothing. It has been provided free for years by the power authority, known as Prepa.
In fact, the power authority has been giving free power to all 78 of Puerto Rico’s municipalities, to many of its government-owned enterprises, even to some for-profit businesses — although not to its citizens. It has done so for decades, even as it has sunk deeper and deeper in debt, borrowing billions just to stay afloat.
Now, however, the island’s government is running out of cash, facing a total debt of $72 billion and already defaulting on some bonds — and an effort is underway to limit the free electricity, which is estimated to cost the power authority hundreds of millions of dollars.
But like many financial arrangements on the island, the free electricity is so tightly woven into the fabric of society that unwinding it would have vast ramifications and, some say, only worsen the plight of the people who live here.
“If the towns don’t get free energy, they’re going to have to pay for it by increasing their property taxes or something, so the people will end up paying,” said Eduardo Bhatia, the president of the Puerto Rico Senate. Residents of the island are already upset about a recent sales tax increase to 11 percent, from 7 percent, and a property tax increase now would cause an outcry. The last assessment was in 1958.
The free electrical power is just one example of the power authority’s complex and paradoxical role in the economy here. On Tuesday, Mr. Bhatia will begin hearings to determine who and what are to blame for the authority’s larger problems, especially its ancient and inefficient power plants, among the last in North America to burn oil. Culprits are expected to include the authority’s secretive purchasing managers, elected officials who wasted money on natural gas pipelines that were scrapped and an institutional hostility to wind and solar power that is hard to fathom on a breezy island where the sun shines most days.
“This is the great mystery that we have to unravel in the coming months,” Mr. Bhatia said in an interview.
Meanwhile, though, the free electricity offers a window into the workings of the island’s sole power provider and demonstrates how complex the solutions to the larger debt troubles are likely to be.
“It’s symbolic of a lot of things here in Puerto Rico,” said Miguel Soto-Class, the president of the Center for a New Economy, which has been urging changes at Prepa for the last 10 years. “Every time we start to get into this, they always come back and say: ‘Well, there’s nothing we can do. We’ve got to keep the lights on.’ ”
Carlos Méndez Martínez, the mayor of Aguadilla, said the city-owned attractions had turned Aguadilla’s onetime deficit into a surplus and generated profits he uses to pay down debt, improve low-income housing and offer free wheelchairs and delivered meals to shut-ins. The profits have also allowed him to keep a 17-year-old promise not to raise taxes. Last year, he even paid a “dividend” to every man, woman and child in the city — a free ticket to the water park, which otherwise costs residents $20.
These achievements have inspired voters to elect Mr. Méndez four times. Aguadilla has no term limits, and he expects to win again this year.
“I can be mayor until the day I die,” he said in a recent interview.
Mr. Méndez said it was fair to use the power authority’s free electricity for municipal development, because Prepa paid no property taxes or licensing fees for its many facilities in Aguadilla. But anticipating limits on his free power now that the authority is struggling for solvency, he recently put asolar power system on the roof of the skating rink that he hopes will eventually get it off the grid.
Aguadilla may be the most visible example, but other municipalities use Prepa’s free electricity to power air-conditioned restaurants and hotels, lighting systems for minor-league baseball games at night, lighting and sound systems for festivals, and other enterprises. Until now, the power authority’s terms gave cities no incentive to conserve. The more free power they used, the more they could receive.
“We have heard of many private entities that for years have run a private business in a building owned by a municipality, and they never paid for power,” said Agustin F. Carbó Lugo, president of the Puerto Rico Energy Commission. The commission, established in 2014, is the power authority’s first independent regulator; previously the public-owned monopoly regulated itself.
The free power dates from 1941, when the utility was established byRexford Tugwell, a member of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s brain trust and the last American governor of Puerto Rico to be appointed by the president of the United States. He contended that for electricity to benefit the people, it had to be owned by the people, and he created Prepa by nationalizing the handful of private electric companies then on the island.
The private companies had paid local property taxes, but publicly owned Prepa did not. Free electricity was intended to make up for the lost tax revenue. The value of the free power was supposed to match the forgone taxes, and if cities took more, they were supposed to pay for it. But the rates are driven by oil prices, which since the 1970s have lost any connection they might have had to property values, and the power authority simply stopped trying to collect what cities owed. In 2014 a consulting firm found the cities had received $420 million worth of free electricity that they should have paid for.
Nor was it just towns and cities. The consulting firm FTI Capital Advisors found that 288 governmental bodies on the island were delinquent in their power payments by $300 million. Among them were public schools, hospitals, low-income housing projects, a commuter train, the island’s water and sewerage system, and its highway authority, which operates traffic signals, toll plazas and highway lighting.
If the power authority were to demand immediate payment from them, it could set off a domino effect of defaults and insolvencies.
In 2012, for example, Puerto Rico’s port authority fell $60 million behind on its electric bills, and the utility threatened to cut off power to the island’s main commercial airport, in San Juan. That would have forced the airport to close, a catastrophe for an island economy that caters to tourists.
To avert a crisis, the government sold the airport to a private investment group from Mexico, and used the proceeds to make a dent in the overdue $60 million. But before long, what was left of the port authority, nine seaports and 11 small airports, started falling behind on electric bills again.
The power authority is working out a payment plan for them.
Other delinquencies have been tougher to resolve. When the power authority threatened to turn off the power in the commuter rail system’s administrative offices, rail officials scoffed, saying the authority had no legal standing to enforce its claims.
“Nobody’s happy,” Senator Bhatia said in a recent interview in San Juan. “Nobody’s in a good position, and that’s why we have to keep working together.”
Click HERE to read the article online.
Today, the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs held an oversight hearing to further examine possible solutions to the Puerto Rican debt crisis and avenues for the Commonwealth to achieve improved fiscal management and long-term sustainability.
The panel discussed concepts surrounding the establishment of an independent control board authority. They argued debt restructuring alone will not ensure future prosperity and financial independence for Puerto Rico.
“Solving the immediate fiscal crisis, while absolutely essential, will not alone be sufficient to bring the Island back to the position of economic self-sufficiency,” stated former District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams. “Anything less robust than the work of such an authority is not going to provide a sustainable solution to Puerto Rico’s serious financial challenges; and waiting any longer to see if somehow the situation self corrects is fundamentally misguided.”
The Puerto Rican legislature has had the opportunity to enact a number of financial and structural reforms that would assist in alleviating the growing debt crisis. However, as demonstrated by the legislature’s recent failure to pass a deal that would restructure Puerto Rico’s public utility’s debt, such legislative action is in serious doubt.
Witnesses outlined the negative implications of enacting Chapter 9 bankruptcy protections, including detrimental impacts to future municipal investment in the Commowealth and harmful implications for investors on the island and the mainland.
“These people live on Main Street, not Wall Street. These investors are ordinary people who invest for retirement and for their children’s education,” said Mr. Thomas Moers Mayer, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, LLP Partner. “I don’t think Puerto Rico will easily recover access to the capital markets if it ever uses Chapter 9. And I think it will have serious knock-on effects across the country.”
"Congress needs to be mindful of the consequences to the cost of municipal credit across our Nation if the Island's debt obligations are not resolved in a manner that the municipal bond market sees as fair and equitable,” stated Williams.
Click here to view the full witness testimony.Read More
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