“Today’s helium auction is the realization of the promise of the Helium Stewardship Act which for the first time establishes a public, transparent, and open process for the sale of helium from the Federal Reserve in Texas. This sale is critical to ensure that taxpayers get a fair return for their resource. Participants are expected to include refiners, non-refiners, end-users, and producers. This auction, which was the centerpiece of the reforms to the helium program, will allow a broader segment of interests to finally compete and will allow an open free market to dictate prices. I look forward to the outcome of this first of its kind event”
On October 2, 2013, H.R. 527, the Helium Stewardship Act that was signed into law, Public Law 113-40. This bipartisan legislation is a common-sense plan to sell helium from the Federal Helium Reserve in a responsible manner to prevent a global shortage, protect jobs and the economy, and ensure a fairer return for taxpayers.
The Federal Helium Reserve in Texas, operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is currently responsible for 30 percent of the world’s helium supply and more than 50 percent of our domestic helium supply.
It was originally created in 1926 to help the U.S. keep pace with global advancements in military technologies, such as blimps. As we all now know, blimps failed to become essential to our national defense purposes and the U.S. was left with a large reserve of helium that had declining usefulness. But in classic government form, the government kept spending money to fill the Reserve until the 1980’s, even when it was very clear that the original need for the Reserve was no longer necessary. By the 1990s, the helium program had racked up a $1.3 billion debt and Congress voted in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion to privatize the program.
Helium is essential to the manufacturing of computer chips and fiber optic cables, is used by hospitals for life-saving medical tests like an MRI, and is critical to national defense efforts.
Earlier this month, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing on the “Implementation and Administration of the 2013 Helium Stewardship Act.” At this 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.Read More
Today, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4315, the Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act with a bipartisan vote of 233-190. This common sense legislation focuses on sensible and specific updates to the Endangered Species Act in the areas of data transparency and species recovery.
“It’s been over 40 years since the Endangered Species Act was enacted and over 25 years since the law was renewed by Congress; it’s time this law was brought into the 21st Century. This common sense legislation to update and improve the Endangered Species Act aims to increase transparency, to enlist greater consultation by states, localities, and Indian tribes in species listings, and to reduce taxpayer-financed attorneys fees to help invest more funding in actual species recovery,” said Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04). “The House’s bipartisan approval of this legislation to make modest, sensible updates to the ESA is an important step forward to making this law more effective for both species and people while respecting the original intent of this law which is to conserve species.”
Since its enactment in 1973, over 1500 species have been listed as a result of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and only 2 percent have been recovered. The last time the ESA was renewed by Congress was in 1988 – long before the internet and cell phones were as widespread and available for commercial use as they are today. With new technological capabilities readily available and strong support for conserving endangered species, there are key areas where improvements could be made to make the law more effective for both species and people in the 21st century.
Specifically, the Endangered Species Transparency & Reasonableness Act would:
For more information on H.R. 4315, click here.
“Mr. Chairman, today, I’m pleased to bring before the House legislation that would help update and improve the Endangered Species Act—a law over 40-years old that was last reauthorized in 1988.
H.R. 4315 melds together four common sense and focused bills introduced earlier this year by myself, Representatives Lummis, Neugebauer and Huizenga. While respecting the original intent of the ESA to conserve species, this bill would help make the law more effective for both species and people.
Because of the more than 500 ESA-related lawsuits that have been filed against the government during this Administration alone, it has become clear that costly litigation is not only driving ESA priorities, but litigation has become an impediment to species recovery.
I should also note that regardless of what some groups are saying, this is not a comprehensive bill – its four sections aim to increase transparency, to enlist greater consultation by states, localities and tribes and to reduce taxpayer-financed attorneys fees to help invest more funding in actual species recovery.
For example, Section 2 of the bill requires data used by federal agencies that decides which species should be added to the threatened or endangered list, to be publicly available and accessible through the Internet. The last significant update to the ESA was when the Internet was in its infant stages. Posting data supporting key ESA decisions online will greatly enhance transparency and data quality.
The American people should be able to access such data before federal listing and de-listing decisions are final.
It is troubling that hundreds of sweeping listing decisions by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service cite unpublished studies, professional opinions, and other sources that are inaccessible to the public yet this data would be used to regulate the very people who don’t have access to this information. This secrecy goes against the grain of good science and transparency.
Data transparency is not only good for the American public in that it makes our government more accountable, it is also good for species because it allows for an open conversation about improving species science. As biologist Rob Roy Ramey testified, at a Natural Resources Committee hearing;
“When the data are not publicly accessible, legitimate scientific inquiry and debate is effectively eliminated, and no independent third party can produce the results. This action puts the basis of some ESA decisions outside the realm of science and species recovery is no better off. Withholding data does not further the goal of species recovery.”
I couldn’t agree more, especially when over 700 species could potentially be listed over the next few years throughout the country. These potential listings are due to this Administration’s mega-lawsuit settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians—groups that have filed hundreds of lawsuits against the government at taxpayer expense.
One of these species could include the northern long-eared bat. It’s a listing which could impact 39 states. Information on data when it comes to these species can only help, not hurt. This bill fosters release of this information.
Section 3 of the bill would enhance state, local and tribal involvement in ESA decisions, by requiring that before any listing decision is made, the federal government must disclose its data to states affected by such actions. In addition, Section 3 ensures that data from local, state and tribal entities - those closest to the ground - be factored into ESA listing decisions.
Section 4 would require the Administration to track and make available online the costs, in time and resources, to taxpayers as a result of ESA-related litigation.
Finally, section 5 would seek to reduce taxpayer-financed attorneys fees to help ensure that federal resources are focused more on species protection and recovery than on lucrative legal fees for serial litigants. Such fees now are awarded as high as $600/hour. This provision puts in place the same reasonable hourly caps on attorney fees used in another federal law, the Equal Access to Justice Act, for veterans, Social Security disability and other such claims.
H.R. 4315 starts with modest, sensible updates to the ESA by promoting transparency, greater state, local and tribal involvement, and bringing ESA litigation fees in line with another federal law.”Read More
This bill will be considered by the full Natural Resources Committee at a Markup on Wednesday, July 25, 2014.
“This legislation was carefully crafted to ensure that the recreation fees paid by the public are used to improve and maintain campgrounds, trails, and other visitor facilities on our public lands. This bill reflects suggestions from those who recreate on our public lands as well as those who help make these lands accessible, including the guides and outfitters. I appreciated the input of Representative DeFazio, his staff, and other organizations who helped us work to identify the biggest priorities for management and use of our national parks, forests, and other public lands. It is my hope that the Senate will join in the efforts to update and pass these policies,” said Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Chairman Rob Bishop.
Currently the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act authorizes the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation to collect fees for accessing and enjoying federal recreation lands and waters. These recreation fees fund necessary services and improvements that enhance the public visitor experience on federal lands such as welcome centers, trails, tours, campgrounds, picnic areas, roads, and boat landings.
The bill ensures that a minimum of 90% of fees collected are retained and used at the collection site so that recreation users are directly paying for the services used. Specifically they bill:
Because of chronic mismanagement, cost overruns, and the continued need for a memorial befitting the honor and contribution of President Eisenhower , today Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Chairman Rob Bishop introduced H.R. 5203, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission Reform Act. This legislation will provide an opportunity for a new perspective by creating a new commission to complete a monument fitting to honor the accomplishments and legacy of President Eisenhower.
“President Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of the greatest leaders in our nation’s history. His legacy must be memorialized in a way that appropriately pays tribute to the many contributions he made as a general and as President,” said Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Chairman Rob Bishop. “The goal of this report and legislation is to address and subsequently move past the controversies and mismanagement that continue to plague the project. In light of the information found in the oversight report, it is very clear that we must move forward with new, and more appropriate ideas, as well as better management of the resources dedicated to the success of this project.”
“President Eisenhower is worthy of a memorial in Washington, DC honoring his accomplishments and legacy -- and he certainly deserves better than the current memorial morass,” said Chairman Doc Hastings. “The House Natural Resource Committee’s oversight investigation and report has documented how the stubborn mismanagement displayed in the creation of an Eisenhower Memorial by bureaucratic staff and the Commission over the past fifteen years has produced very little but a track record of wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and a deeply flawed design that’s failed to meet even the basic requirements for the memorial which are based on criteria that was clearly laid out as early as 2006. A change needs to be made so that an appropriately designed memorial to Dwight Eisenhower can move forward promptly without further waste and distractions. It’s time to restore a devotion to a proper Eisenhower Memorial rather than an obstinate pursuit of the Gehry design in spite of mounting costs and criticism.”
Background on Eisenhower Memorial:
In 1999, Congress established the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial and tasked it with “consider[ing] and formulat[ing] plans for such a permanent memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower, including its nature, design, construction, and location.”
The Eisenhower Memorial Commission is composed of 12 commissioners – four citizens appointed by the President, four members of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House, and four Senators appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. The day-to-day operations of the Memorial Commission are overseen by a nine-person executive staff and assisted by several contractors. Assistance is also provided by the General Services Administration, as well as a construction management firm.
Since 1999, Congress has appropriated about $65 million to the Memorial Commission to pay for its operational expenses, the selection of a designer, and the development of a design. A four-acre site at the intersection of Maryland and Independence avenues, south of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, was selected in 2006 as the location of the planned Eisenhower Memorial.
The Commission selected famed architect Frank Gehry in 2009 to design the Memorial. Gehry’s design features several statues in the center of the site, surrounded on three sides by metal tapestries suspended from 80-foot tall columns. Questions have been raised about the durability of the metal tapestries as well as their aesthetics compared to the surrounding buildings and other memorials along the National Mall.
As recently as spring 2014, the National Capital Planning Commission rejected Gehry’s proposed design because the necessary durability and protection of the historic viewshed along Maryland Avenue, among other features, had not been adequately demonstrated.
Background on Committee’s Investigation:
The Committee has been conducting oversight of the Memorial Commission’s activities and the design of the Memorial since the 112th Congress. On March 20, 2012, an oversight hearing was held to hear concerns about the design selection process and durability of the design, including opposition from the Eisenhower family.
In the 113th Congress, the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation heard testimony from members of the Eisenhower family, the Memorial Commission, and the public concerning H.R. 1126 (“Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Completion Act”) and the status of the project itself.
Given concerns raised at these hearings, document request letters were sent by Full Committee Chairman Doc Hastings and Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop on May 15, 2013 to the Memorial Commission, the GSA, and the National Park Service, requesting details about the Commission’s activities, travel, fundraising, and expenses; copies of contracts and invoices with the designer and other contractors; information about the design process and overall project management; and the analysis of what it will cost to operate the Memorial.
State and local governments, ranchers, business owners, and private citizens have been subject to threats, lack of cooperation, and numerous unfair or heavy-handed tactics which threaten public safety, the environment, endangered species, and the livelihoods of communities. Congressional oversight is necessary to provide an effective check on federal officials who abuse their regulatory powers.
“Today we took a second look at threats, intimidation and bullying by Federal Land Managing Agencies. During a hearing the Committee held last year and again today, we heard first-hand accounts of mistreatment at the hands of federal officials seeking to extort the witnesses into relinquishing their property rights,” said Representative Doug LaMalfa (CA-01). “These firsthand accounts give the victims of abusive conduct by a federal land managing official a chance to tell their story to Congress. Status quo agency oversight, policies and procedures are inadequate for addressing or deterring employee abuses and may instead embolden overreaching or malicious employee behavior with little risk of retribution for their actions.”
Witnesses highlighted examples of flagrant intimidation met by citizens who refuse to surrender their constitutional rights, land and water rights, grazing permits and other multiple-use benefits.
Sheriff James Perkins, Garfield County, UT, highlighted his perspective from 27 years of law enforcement and experience working with various federal law enforcement agencies.
“BLM’s attitude towards coordinating with local law enforcement is summed up best by a conversation I had with a BLM law enforcement officer while we were attending a drug task force meeting in Cedar City, Utah. He told me point blank that he didn’t care about any authority that I thought I had as the Garfield County Sheriff, and that he did not feel like he had to coordinate anything through my office… This refusal to coordinate, coupled with a lack of any meaningful oversight, has created a perfect environment where the abuse of federal law enforcement powers can occur.”
Leland Pollock, Garfield County Commissioner, Garfield County Utah, testified on how BLM law enforcement has moved away from a public service philosophy due to polarization of personnel and bullying and cancellation of cooperative agreements.
“Our concerns/ complaints are not just a matter of hurt feelings, bullying, intimidation, lack of integrity, and a host of social issues. BLM’s Chief of Law Enforcement has cost Garfield County real dollars… We are befuddled how one individual can override a State Director and negatively impact an entire county with impunity.”
A. Grant Gerber, Elko County Commissioner, Elko Nevada, discussed specific examples of wrongdoings, threats, intimidation, and bullying by both BLM law enforcement and a district manager.
“When I was a boy and as I grew up the few Federal Agents were mainly local or from rural areas and fit in well with the local area. They knew the people and worked cooperatively. Now the Federal agents are predominantly from outside the area and do not develop connections with the locals as was done previously. Many start off with a belligerent attitude, even a commanding presence. They are especially offended if anyone opposes any Federal Government actions. The worst are the Federal Law Enforcement Agents that arrogantly announce that they are not governed by Nevada law, but can enforce it if they choose. Now we have been informed, that without notice of hearings, the BLM has determined that two more BLM Law Enforcement Agents are necessary to control the people in the Elko area. All of this is resulting in less use of Federal Lands by citizens as the citizens become afraid of being accosted and berated.”
Jose Valera Lopez, President of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, Rancher, Santa Fe New Mexico, testified on current justifications Federal Land Managers use to intimidate and bully including Endangered Species protection and resource protection.
“Endangered species ‘protection’ is the biggest culprit. At the moment the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering critical habitat for the lesser prairie chicken, the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, and two varieties of garter snakes. Expansion of the Mexican wolf habitat is expected as early as tomorrow. We have had 764,000 acres in New Mexico and Arizona recently designated critical habitat for the jaguar although only a few male jaguar have been sighted in the U.S. over the last 60 years… In my own case, the BLM has been buying up private lands near my family ranch within the boundaries of an Area of Critical Environmental Concern that they designated part of their Resource Management Plan. They not refer to our ranch as an in-holding. What this designation has done is de-valued our land and effectively prohibits any type of future development on the ranch.”
“America’s dependence on foreign nations for minerals is a choice. Our solution to our dependence isn’t a lack of resource; it is a lack of courage and commitment to produce the resources here. It is a policy of the Obama Administration that is bent on destroying jobs in the mining industry, from vetoing approved coal mines in Appalachia, to pre-emptively vetoing mines which haven’t even been proposed in Alaska,” said Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (CO-05). “The United States is among the world’s largest producer of many important metals and minerals and one of the biggest road blocks to increased domestic mineral exploration and development is the very cumbersome permitting process in the United States.”
Witnesses at the hearing offered expert testimony on the importance of critical minerals and rare earth elements to America’s economy.
Anthony Y. Ku, Senior Scientist in Manufacturing and Materials Technology at GE Global Research, underscored the importance of critical minerals and rare earth elements in the production of GE’s products calling them “fundamental to everything we [GE] do as a company. We are constantly watching, evaluating, and anticipating supply changes with respect to materials that are vital to GE’s business interests.” Increasing the supply of these rare earth elements and critical minerals is important to meeting the nation’s future needs in energy, healthcare, and transportation. Ku added, “We believe GE’s experience in addressing its material needs can inform the Federal government’s efforts to develop a clear and comprehensive national policy to assure availability of minerals essential for national economic well-being, national security, and global economic competitiveness.”
Mark Fellows, Director of Consulting at SNL Metals & Mining, called the consumption of metals and minerals “integral to the standard of living that Americans enjoy.” Fellows cautioned that federal government regulations and red tape are hurting America’s competitive advantage in mineral mining. “While the U.S. mining sector is ideally positioned to support manufacturers’ need for greater sustainability and shorter supply chains in the production process, an outdated, inefficient permitting system presents a barrier to American companies’ access to minerals they need and thus to the economic competitiveness of the U.S. mining industry.” Fellows called it a “shame that mining activity in the U.S. is handicapped by a permitting system which severely hampers the development of a sustainable mining industry in the U.S.”
Jerry Pyatt is the Chairman and CEO of The Doe Run Resources Corporation, which is one of the largest lead producers in the world. Lead produced from Doe Run’s mines is found in batteries for cars, wind and solar energy storage, telecommunications, data centers, national defense systems, along with many more applications. Pyatt testified to the Subcommittee that increased environmental regulations by the federal government have caused Doe Run to stop producing lead in the United States and ship the raw lead abroad to be produced in countries like China that have minimal environmental standards. He noted that it’s not just lead that’s being overregulated by the federal government, “Mining is increasingly costly as we have to search further and further and deeper for mineral resources, while adhering to standards that in some cases require us to return water to streams at levels that are cleaner than drinking water standards.” Pyatt called for a “responsible and reasonable” approach to regulation that doesn’t hinder access to these critical minerals.
Brett Lambert, Senior Fellow at the National Defense Industrial Association, has over 25 years of experience in the private defense and intelligence markets. Lambert underscored how vital these critical minerals and rare earth elements are to the defense market. “The end products used by our war fighters are produced using a wide variety of minerals that often compose critical elements. These products are used by an extremely diverse set of companies that provide, directly and indirectly, to the Defense Department.” Lambert testified that increased access to these minerals is “essential” and echoed calls from other witnesses that “potential restrictions to this access can add costs and time to system development and deployment.”
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.”
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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