Yesterday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) accounting and management of natural gas emissions on onshore federal lands. Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:
“BLM is supposed to prohibit venting and flaring except under limited circumstances. This report found that the vast majority of requests for venting and flaring are due to infrastructure limitations,” Bishop said. “There’s no denying that infrastructure is the key to the solution which the BLM continues to ignore.”
According to GAO’s report: “The vast majority of the requests cited limitations with existing infrastructure as the reason the operators needed to vent or flare gas, such as constrained pipeline capacity or problems with receiving gas plants.”
“The Administration’s lackluster accounting standards, failure to enforce existing rules and unwavering pursuit of harmful regulations are causing more problems rather than fixing them,” Bishop added.
BLM’s bureaucratic delays for pipeline rights-of-way permitting remain a major contributing factor to methane flaring. The BLM manual says they aim to process rights-of-way permits within 60 days. However, according to BLM’s own data, not a single area has met the 60-day deadline.
GAO’s report, "Interior Could Do More to Account for and Manage Natural Gas Emissions," can be viewed here.
Page 13: “… BLM’s proposed methane and waste reduction regulations […] contain no guidance on how to estimate or measure natural gas emissions below those thresholds.”
Page 16: “BLM’s proposed methane and waste reduction regulations do not alter OGOR [Oil and Gas Operations Report] categories operators should use to report flared gas.”
Page 17: “In its proposed regulations, BLM has not provided additional guidance to operators on which activities should be included under the natural gas emissions reporting categories on the OGOR.”
Page 18: “BLM has approved operators’ requests to vent or flare gas royalty-free without having the documentation its guidance requires.”
Page 27: “Since Interior […] has limited guidance on how to report natural gas emissions, it cannot yet consistently account for these emissions on federal leases.”Read More
Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) removed the lesser prairie chicken from the list of threatened and endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in response to a 2015 court ruling. The ruling vacated FWS’s decision to list the species as threatened. FWS also announced it will initiate another evaluation of the species using the same listing methods. Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:
“The Obama Administration has been merciless in its quest to list species—even when the court says otherwise. The Fish & Wildlife Service has fast-tracked hundreds of ESA listings without credible science through settlement agreements behind closed doors. When they are ordered by a court to revisit one of their merit-less listings, they plow ahead with the same agenda-driven methods. The Department of the Interior has demonstrated their complete lack of credibility on the Endangered Species Act and the dire need for ESA reform. Only time will tell if this is anything more than a temporary, court-ordered reprieve for the Administration, before they revert back to the same old ways.”
In 2011, the Obama Administration negotiated and agreed to two litigation settlements involving petitions by two national environmental organizations, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the WildEarth Guardians (WEG) to make hundreds of species listings and designate critical habitat decisions under the ESA through more than 85 lawsuits and legal actions. These settlements mandate that over 250 candidate species must be reviewed for final listing as either threatened or endangered within specific deadlines. The lesser prairie chicken, found throughout 62,000 square miles on the prairies of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, is one of the most sweeping listings included in the 2011 mega-settlements.In 2015, the Western District of Texas vacated the listing on the grounds that FWS's decision was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and failed to properly evaluate existing conservation efforts by states. Read More
Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Representative Bruce Westerman (R-AR) participated in a press call to discuss pending wildfire and forest management legislation (H.R. 2647 / S. 3085).
Click here to listen to a recording of the call.
“Last year, more than 10 million acres went up in smoke due to decades of unmanaged forests and our government spending more on fighting fires and special interest groups in court than managing the forests in scientifically-proven ways,” Rep. Westerman stated during the call.
Members outlined concerns with inadequate federal efforts to reduce the concentration of hazardous fuels in overgrown forests. The Forest Service is currently treating just 1% of the forest lands that the agency has identified as high-risk and susceptible to wildfires.
In reference to H.R. 2647 and S. 3085, Bishop stated: “this framework gives agencies a responsible budget fix and the tools they’ve been calling for to finally begin treating forests at a pace and scale that is needed to protect our communities.”
For basic treatments or a routine thinning project, an Environmental Impact Statement can cost the Forest Service a minimum of a million dollars and over 3 years to complete. “With its current, woefully inadequate and expensive self-imposed process, it’s no wonder the Forest Service currently treats just 3 million out of 60 million acres at high risk to wildfire,” Bishop stated.
“We need a new strategy that focuses on scientifically based, sustainable forestry management,” Rep. Westerman stated. “To do this, we'll have to rein in frivolous lawsuits that regrettably have become the tool of choice for small groups with special interests. With proper management and new provisions for catastrophic events, we can end fire-borrowing in a cost-effective manner.”
“As the loss of life, property and environmental damage grows, we cannot afford to just throw more money at the problem. We must address the root cause,” Bishop stated.
On July 9, 2015, H.R. 2647 (Rep. Westerman), the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, passed the House. The bipartisan bill would address the growing threat of catastrophic wildfire by simplifying environmental process requirements, reducing project planning times, and expanding forest management flexibility to improve the health and resiliency of our forests.
On June 22, 2016, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, introduced S. 3085, the Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act of 2016. Similar to the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, S. 3085 proposes a responsible solution to “fire-borrowing” with much needed reforms to improve forest heath on federal lands.Click here to view a summary of H.R. 2647. Read More
Today, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on the status of Ivanpah and other federal loan-guaranteed solar energy projects on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.
The Obama Administration has subsidized billions of taxpayer dollars in renewable energy projects that have significantly underperformed, killed federally protected birds and destroyed the habitats of endangered species.
“It seems that in spite of improved technologies, billions of dollars-worth of federal tax credits, and government mandates that force utilities into solar power purchase agreements, the cost and efficiency of solar energy is still not competitive with hydro, nuclear, coal and natural gas,” Subcommittee Chairman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said. “And Americans repeatedly pay the price in a system where the government chooses winners and losers.”
The $2.2 billion Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System facility on the California-Nevada state line was made possible by a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee. Even though this facility is owned by companies worth hundreds of billions — Google, NRG Energy and Brightsource Energy — the project was almost fully financed by federal subsidies.
“Ivanpah is an example of big-government programs benefitting big and influential economic actors for preferred projects,” David Kreutzer, PhD, Senior Research Fellow in Energy Economics and Climate Change at the Heritage Foundation, said.
Panel members discussed their frustration with the Administration’s apparent double standard between renewable energy facilities and other economic activities on federal lands. For an expensive source of electricity generation, solar projects enjoy preferential treatment in leasing, financing and law enforcement.
“[T]he problem with the Administration’s actions with regard to solar leasing is that contrary to claims that the Administration has an ‘all-of-the-above’ policy, the Administration has been antagonistic towards natural gas, oil and coal production on federal lands,” Daniel Simmons, Vice President for Policy at the Institute for Energy Research, stated.
Ironically, Ivanaph relies on nonrenewable energy to reheat the facility’s water necessary to turn sunlight into energy. In fact, natural gas use accounts for substantially more than the five percent limit for electricity production codified in their contract, according to Kreutzer.
Of the very few questions Michael Nedd, Assistant Director for Energy Minerals and Realty Management for the BLM, could answer, he acknowledged that Ivanpah has killed hundreds of protected migratory birds. Violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act carry a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $15,000 fine per bird, but no such accountability exists.
The U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were invited to testify, but they refused to send a witness.Click here to view full witness testimony. Read More
Only “you can prevent forest fires.” That’s what Smokey Bear would have you believe, anyway.
But America’s anti-wildfire mascot identifies only part of the equation. While visitors to the great outdoors can tamp out campfires or refrain from tossing cigarettes into dry leaves, the federal government, as manager of millions of national acreage, also has a role.
But decades of bad land-management decisions and poor public policy keeps burning America — in a literal sense.
Large-scale wildfires in this country occur predominately in national forests, national recreation areas and other federal lands. A wildfire in Lovell Canyon that burned about 400 acres just west of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area late last month was no exception. Nor were the forest fires that ravaged parts of Washington, Wyoming and Colorado over the past month. And let’s not forget about the series of recent fires that torched large swaths of federal lands in California.
The nearly unlimited supply of fuel on federal lands helps explain the scorching of millions of acres every year.
America’s national forests began as a federal project to ensure the country had a sustainable supply of timber. National forests were supposed to be thinned regularly by logging, then replanted. By the 1980s, national forests provided about a quarter of America’s softwood lumber.
Since then, however, a mixture of senseless regulations, the persistent threat of lawsuits, pressures from environmental extremists and bad management decisions have left national forests and other federal lands largely untouched. Logging has been in steep decline on government lands and federal land administrators have been discouraged from thinning trees and brush with machines or through controlled burns.
As a result, national forests and other federal lands are packed with an overabundance of dead and dying trees and dry undergrowth, perfect fuel for catastrophic wildfires.
According to the Property and Environment Research Center, a Montana-based environmental think tank, “In the national forests, annual new forest growth approximates 20 billion board feet per year nationwide. Tree mortality removes 10 billion board feet per year. Timber harvests and mechanical wood removals take out another 3 million board feet per year. Prescribed burning eliminates 1 billion board feet annually, but all this leaves 6 billion board feet that is very likely to burn in a forest fire some day.”
Washington’s hands-off approach has led to about 7 million acres a year going up in smoke. These uncharacteristically dense forests “fuel devastating fires that burn at a much higher intensity than historic levels, killing entire forest stands,” center researchers found.
Oftentimes, according to former U.S. Forest Service forestry technician Alison Berry, it would be best to let wildfires burn, particularly when they pose no threat to private land, endangered species or people. This approach, Mr. Berry points out, “returns nutrients to soils, reduces thick undergrowth that can fuel a fire, encourages growth of older fire-resistant trees, and promotes establishment of new seedlings.”
Monitoring wildfires also costs about 80 percent less than trying to put them out, not an insignificant factor, given that fire suppression costs taxpayers about $2.5 billion a year.
The federal approach to wildfires is backward. Washington bureaucrats shun logical fire prevention methods such as logging, thinning and managed burns, then risk lives and pour billions of dollars into trying to put out fires that should be allowed to burn.
Until the federal government changes its approach to land management, more and more of America’s national forests and other public lands will be needlessly destroyed by preventable wildfires.
Click here to view the article online.
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5538, the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2017, by a 231-196 vote. Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) released the following statement:
“Executive overreach from this Administration is in overdrive as the President’s second term nears an end. They’ve prioritized their regulatory regime over the American people. With that, there is a need for Congress to reassert the power of the purse. Through this legislation we limit the seemingly endless list of regulatory attacks on domestic natural resource development.”
H.R. 5538 includes policies and funding limitations to:
Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources held a markup on eight bills including H.R. 5577 (Rep. Garret Graves, R-LA), the Innovation in Offshore Leasing Act, which modernizes the Bureau of Ocean Management’s offshore leasing process through the use of internet-based oil and natural gas lease sales. H.R. 5577 passed as part of a broader unanimous consent package.
“This bill is an important improvement to the federal government’s ancient process for offshore oil and gas leasing. I applaud the work of Rep. Graves in developing an innovative framework for an outdated process,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said.
Currently, the Secretary of the Interior conducts sealed-bid lease sales for offshore oil and natural gas leasing, in which bids are opened and read aloud in the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. Transitioning to internet-based technologies will bring greater efficiency and transparency to the Department of the Interior’s offshore leasing process.
“This is a step forward for taxpayers. It’s a change that makes sense, plain and simple. My 6 year old uses the internet – the government should embrace this change,” Rep. Graves stated. “It will save taxpayers money, increase transparency for the public and level the playing field so that businesses access the opportunity in the Gulf. Most importantly, the increased competition for offshore energy will maximize value of this important public resource.”
H.R. 5577 is one piece of legislation in the Innovation Initiative spearheaded by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-NC). The initiative seeks to remove government-made obstacles to innovation and bring government into the 21st Century.
“The process to lease federal land could be the poster child for inefficiencies and outdated processes that frustrate Americans’ interaction with government. The Innovation Initiative was designed to streamline government programs to bring them into the 21st Century and I am thrilled Representative Garrett Graves has introduced this legislation,” Leader McCarthy said.Click here to learn more about H.R. 5577. Read More
Today, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a legislative hearing on H.R. 2663, the Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act of 2015, which aims to streamline and facilitate increased development of renewable energy on federal land.
H.R. 2663 advances an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy by addressing the burdens facing solar, wind and geothermal energy development on federal lands. It provides regulatory certainty for developers and ensures a fair return for states and taxpayers.
“Unfortunately, energy development on our public lands has been hampered repeatedly by regulatory and bureaucratic red tape, as well as costly lawsuits with dubious goals […]. It comes as no surprise the renewable industry regards the permitting process on federal land as being ‘substantially more difficult to pursue than permitting on private lands,’” Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) said.
From a county made up of 75% federal lands, Mohave County, AZ Supervisor Buster Johnson talked about his frustration with the protracted federal permitting process.
“Simply put, there is no reason for the BLM to take several years to permit a project when our county offices can issue permits in weeks,” Johnson said.
Josh Nordquist, Director of Business Development for Ormat Technologies, Inc., discussed obstacles facing the geothermal federal permitting process citing a “greater set of obligations.”
“[W]e believe that this bill can help unlock new projects to create high-paying, long term jobs and baseload, emission-free power production,” Nordquist stated.
The bill also establishes a new revenue structure which would distribute royalties to affected states, affected counties, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the “Renewable Energy Resource Conservation Fund.” The new Fund serves to mitigate the impacts of renewable development on federal land.
“The Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act presents a valuable, bipartisan opportunity to spur renewable energy development on public lands in a way that maximizes benefits to states, counties and the people who use public lands,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said. “This proactive solution brings wind and solar energy more in line with the way other forms of energy development are permitted, creating greater long-term certainty. Additionally, it would direct revenues so that states and counties receive their fair share, so that hunting and fishing opportunities can be enhanced while permits can be processed more efficiently.”Click here to view full witness testimony. Read More
Today, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing on the opportunities and challenges in developing the Mancos Shale of western Colorado, which constitutes the second largest gas reserve in the U.S. behind the Marcellus Shale.
A June 2016 report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found that the Mancos Shale contains more than 66 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 74 million barrels of shale oil and 45 million barrels of natural gas liquids. These reserves are more than 40 times the original 2003 assessment.
“For rural Colorado and other neighboring states, this could be a game-changing opportunity for decades to come, as long as federal policies allow for responsible development. An unpredictable federal regulatory environment and arbitrary federal actions will chase investment from states with federal land to those without federal land. And, in many cases, will chase investment to other countries,” Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) said.
The report changes the baseline assumptions for all Bureau of Land Management (BLM) leasing decisions in the area, including impending regulatory and environmental assessments for energy development. Members questioned if the BLM is planning to incorporate the report’s findings into federal decision making for multiple-use areas overlying the play, but the BLM refused to send a witness.
More specifically, the Committee and panel members asked the BLM to reopen comments on the “Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Previously Issued Oil and Gas Leases in White River National Forest Colorado” in light of the 2016 USGS assessment.
Robert Guinn, Vice President of SG Interests, discussed his frustration with the BLM’s “post hoc decision making” despite the proven ability to safely and responsibly develop shale resources.
“The BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, rather than facilitating the development of the Mancos Shale, are making long-lasting land use planning decisions to prevent development of a significant portion of the Mancos Shale resources in the White River National Forest,” Guinn said.
Robert Downey, fourth generation Colorado native and Vice President of Production for Gunnison Energy LLC, talked about his experiences working with the BLM citing them as costly and time-consuming.
“[W]e’ve sometimes found the BLM to be inconsistent and slow in handling applications we’ve filed […]. In our experience, it costs about 10 times as much to permit a well on federal land versus fee land, and it takes about 10 times as long to get a permit approved,” Downey stated.
Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese talked about the firsthand impacts of the federal regulatory burden resulting in the loss of over 10,000 jobs in Mesa County, largely in the natural gas industry.
“When you think about economic effects of over-regulation, potentially cancelling leases or modifying leases, the ability or inability to do business in Mesa Country or surrounding western Colorado counties, you have to think about the ‘domino effect’ […]. This is a huge cut into my budget for infrastructure and important public safety needs,” Pugliese explained.Click here to view full witness testimony. Read More
Today, the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans held an oversight hearing on conflicting ideas between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that could threaten portions of California’s water supply.
NMFS proposed holding back water behind Shasta Dam through the summer and fall to preserve cold water for the Winter-run Chinook salmon. Conversely, FWS seeks to release water, increasing Bay-Delta outflow for the Delta smelt.
The conflicting proposals are causing great uncertainty for local communities and water users in California. Witness Jeffrey Sutton, General Manager of Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority, described several problems limited water releases—as NMFS proposed—have already caused and will continue to create.
“Reduced releases caused havoc on Sacramento River operations, resulting in some senior water contractors being shorted water supply, harm to irrigation pumping facilities due to low river elevations, water users having to alternatively pump groundwater wells at increased cost and from overly exercised aquifers due to the recent drought,” Sutton said.
“The fish agencies have based their latest demands on the premise that more water equals more fish. That notion has failed to work, as more water has been dedicated to the fish, but their populations continue to dwindle mainly due to ocean conditions, predatory fish and other natural factors,” Subcommittee Vice-Chairman Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) stated. “Defending the way the agencies have done business in this latest California saga is similar to a doctor ignoring the causes of sickness that could be cured.”
Ara Azhderian, Water Policy Administrator of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, claimed fish are not recovering and farmers are suffering because the costs and benefits of such water uses are not accurately examined.
“Unlike agricultural and municipal usage which must account for the use and ensure the benefit of each drop, environmental usage undergoes no such scrutiny. On the contrary, its benefit is simply assumed," Azhderian said.
Witnesses discussed a number of solutions, including a single FWS-NMFS plan to cover both salmon and Delta smelt needs as opposed to the current conflicting proposals and two separate plans. Rep. Gosar also proposed merging FWS’ and NMFS’ responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act, similar to President Obama's proposal mentioned during a statement in his 2011 State of the Union address.
Click here to view full witness testimony.Read More
1324 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515