Today, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held an oversight hearing on delays and uncertainty related to Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultations. Subcommittee Chairman Raúl Labrador (R-ID) reacted to testimony from witnesses that recounted personal experiences with extensive delays as a result of ESA consultations that ultimately jeopardized human health and safety, harmed small businesses and, in many cases, further imperiled species.
“The testimony we heard today is crystal clear that we need – in an infrastructure package or legislation moving forward – to address ESA for people and species. This law is a lawyer’s dream that has the power to block projects entirely while taxpayers foot the bill,” Subcommittee Chairman Labrador said.
Protracted consultation timelines are particularly concerning when delays hold up projects that benefit the environment according to Jonathan Wood, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation.
“If the slow, burdensome consultation process causes communities to delay necessary upgrades and improvements, then the environment and endangered species could ultimately pay the price when that infrastructure fails,” Wood stated.
Douglas Stiles, General Manager of the Hecla Mining Company, specifically spoke to the broken legal system when it comes to listing and consultation.
“The current system is abused by non-profit organizations pursuing procedural litigation on emotional issues in cases disconnected from the Act’s original purpose,” Stiles stated. “The guarantee of litigation following an Agency decision has added decades to the permitting timeline and millions of dollars to permitting costs with no benefit to the species.”
Ron Calkins, President of the American Public Works Association, similarly called for reforms to the statue while noting that species recovery and critical infrastructure projects are not mutually exclusive.
“We need a better balance between the protection of endangered species and the ability to implement important public works and infrastructure projects especially when public safety and health is threatened by a lack of water supply,” Calkins said.
Click here to view full witness testimony.Read More
House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement in reaction to President Trump’s most recent executive order related to domestic energy production:
“This order begins the reversal of a number of harmful and ideologically-driven policies. We will work with the President to add statutory permanence to prevent future administrations from resurrecting this harmful regulatory agenda.”Read More
Today, President Trump signed H.J. Res 44 (Rep. Liz Cheney, R-WY), a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act to repeal the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Planning 2.0 Rule.
“This rule would have given even more power to the bureaucracy in Washington when what we need is the exact opposite. Reversing this rule is just one of many actions we will take to shift land management decisions back to the people who live in these areas and away from unelected, and in many cases unaccountable, bureaucrats,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said.
“I am proud to see H.J. Res 44, overturning BLM Planning 2.0., signed into law today by President Trump. The rule we overturn today would have had far reaching and damaging implications on public lands and our economy in Wyoming. Planning 2.0 would have given the federal government and radical environmental groups control over land use and resource planning in our state, at the expense of local officials and stakeholders,” Rep. Cheney said.
Over 60 organizations representing counties and localities, governors, farm bureaus, the livestock industry and energy groups supported the passage of the CRA.
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Today, the Department of the Interior announced plans to repeal the Office of Natural Resources Revenue’s (ONRR) “Consolidated Federal Oil & Gas and Federal & Indian Coal Valuation Rule.”
“The Trump administration should be commended for beginning the process of reversing the impossible regulatory requirements imposed on energy development by this rule. Endless layers of regulation don’t yield greater returns for taxpayers, they paralyze economic activity. In this case, the rule hit marginal producers – the small businesses that support local economies – the hardest,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said.
“The ONRR’s mineral valuation rule added more red-tape, complexity and confusion to an already overly-complicated mineral valuation process, creating a disincentive for responsible development of our natural resources on federal land and ultimately hurting hardworking Americans and their families the most. I am glad to see that Secretary Zinke joins us in recognizing the harmful impact this rule would have on energy producers and consumers alike and has started the process for withdrawing the regulation through the rulemaking process,” Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) stated.
“Let’s be clear—the ONRR mineral valuation rule was nothing but a shadow tax on American energy. In my home state of Louisiana, it meant reduced state revenue sharing dollars, hindering our ability to make major investments to restore our coast and protect Louisiana families and businesses from devastating storms. I applaud Secretary Zinke’s action to begin withdrawing this damaging rule, and look forward to working with the Department of Interior to promote safe and responsible energy production throughout the U.S.,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) said.
ONRR finalized the regulation on valuating royalties from oil, natural gas and coal produced on federal and tribal lands on June 30, 2016.
Reps. Tipton and Scalise introduced a H.J. Res. 71, a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act, that would rescind the onerous rulemaking and prohibit substantially similar rules from being considered.Read More
Today, Representatives Jody Hice (R-GA) and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) introduced H.R. 1668, the “Bureau of Land Management Foundation Act.” H.R. 1668 establishes a new foundation that will leverage private funding to assist federal land management agencies with abandoned mine lands cleanup as well as other mission areas.
“When millions of gallons of toxic waste gushed into the Animas River from the Gold King Mine in 2015, the urgency to address the problem of pollution from abandoned mines became abundantly clear. By replacing substandard federal regulations with private sector policies and procedures, the Bureau of Land Management Foundation will increase the pace and scale of cleaning up contaminated water at abandoned mine sites across the nation. I look forward to working in a bipartisan manner with Rep. Lowenthal and my Resources Committee colleagues to implement comprehensive spill prevention methods,” Rep. Hice said.
“The establishment of a Bureau of Land Management Foundation is long overdue. It would provide the BLM with an important partner, and allow private individuals and corporations to support the BLM’s diverse mission, which includes activities such as managing wild horses, protecting cultural resources and cleaning up abandoned hardrock mines. I am proud to work cooperatively with Rep. Hice and the Natural Resources Committee to get this bill passed,” Rep. Lowenthal said.
Last Congress, the House passed H.R. 3884 (Rep. Hice), the “Bureau of Land Management Foundation Act,” by a bipartisan voice vote on July 5, 2016.Read More
Today, the Department of the Interior’s Lease Sale 247 for oil and gas parcels in the Gulf of Mexico brought in over $274 million for over 900,000 acres in the Outer Continental Shelf offshore Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:
“Finally, we are taking advantage of our vast natural resources offshore. For years we witnessed the prior administration deliberatively cancel or limit lease sales and use a lack of industry interest as the excuse. With a new administration that is open to responsible development, we are seeing a strong indication of the exact opposite – a private sector eager to unleash domestic production and competitive investment in our federal lands.”Read More
Today, the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs held an oversight hearing on the status of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) Restructuring Support Agreement (RSA).
PREPA, the state-owned, self-regulated monopoly that operates as Puerto Rico's public utility, provides power generation to the 3.4 million Americans residing on the island. The utility faces major structural and operational inefficiencies and is $8.9 billion in debt. The current RSA, which is the framework for ongoing voluntary restructuring negotiations over PREPA's debt obligation and related structural reforms, is set to expire on March 31, 2017.
Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González asked Governor Ricardo Rosselló “when do you understand any agreement will be reached – a month, weeks, how much longer?” But Gov. Rosselló’s technical advisor couldn’t give a concrete answer in spite of the looming March 31 deadline.
With a major bond payment of $455 million due on July 1st, Subcommittee Chairman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) stressed the importance of finding a consensual agreement for the utility to keep the lights on in Puerto Rico.
“In order to get PREPA back on track and stabilize the power generation for the residents and the businesses of the island, serious decisions need to be made by leaders in the Government of Puerto Rico, the Governing Board of PREPA and the various creditor communities. The island cannot afford a delay any longer,” LaMalfa stated.
Witness Stephen Spencer, testifying on behalf of certain funds managed by Franklin Advisers Inc. and OppenheimerFunds, Inc., talked about the dangerous outcomes of a jeopardized RSA.
“Failure to close this deal would have ramifications far beyond PREPA," Spencer stated. "Failure to close a deal negotiated over two years would call into question Puerto Rico’s good faith in negotiating other restructuring."
Members reviewed efforts of the Oversight Board, established under PROMESA (P.L. 114-187), to support ongoing voluntary restructuring agreements and facilitate additional consensual negotiations between creditors and various other debt-ridden instrumentalities within the Commonwealth.
"One of the most difficult issues the Oversight Board has had to tackle in advancing the PROMESA agenda has been determining as accurately as possible just what the Government of Puerto Rico’s revenues and expenses are," Oversight Board Chairman José Carrión said.
"This is a far more challenging task than you, as federal lawmakers, may imagine," Carrion added, in reference to the fact that the Government’s most recent audited financial statements cover the period ending June 30, 2014.
Under PROMESA, the Oversight Board has tools, including subpoena power, to conduct an independent analysis of the financial condition of the Commonwealth and its covered instrumentalities.
Click here to view full witness testimony.Read More
Today, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources discussed the importance of domestically sourced raw materials for the upcoming infrastructure package.
“Aggregates such as crushed stone, sand, and gravel are the literal foundation of many of our infrastructure projects,” Subcommittee Chairman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said. “Expedited permitting regimes for infrastructure projects will have little to no effect if the mines that supply materials to those projects do not share the same accelerated process.”
Nigel Steward, Managing Director of Copper and Diamond Operations at Rio Tinto, talked about the arduous permitting process in the U.S., which takes an average of 7 to 10 years.
“The U.S. has one of the longest permitting processes in the world for mining projects,” Steward stated. “By comparison, permitting in Australia and Canada, which have similar environmental standards and practices as the U.S., takes between two and three years.”
More than the prolonged permitting timeline, Ward Nye Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Martin Marietta added that mining projects are subject to further delays from litigious-happy special interest groups.
“Ultimately, not only does this excessive regulation cost time, money and jobs, but critically, it often puts the fate of vital infrastructure projects in the hands of special interest groups and their handpicked courts, instead of Congress and state governments,” Nye said.
The economic benefits extend far beyond the aggregates themselves, mining supports countless other industries and small businesses. Not to mention, domestically sourced raw materials keep project costs down – a gift for American taxpayers’ wallets.
“[T]o meet the demand that will result from a sustained and substantial infrastructure investment plan, a robust mining sector is necessary. One cannot happen without the other,” Michael Brennan, Senior Vice President of the Associated Equipment Distributors, stated. “Everyone from construction equipment distributors to restaurant employees to auto mechanics suffer when there’s a significant downturn in an important industry.”
Putting today’s regulatory regime in perspective, Mr. Nye posed a rhetorical question: “Could [the Hoover Dam] be built today?”
It is critical for Congress to pair infrastructure investments with regulatory reforms, including targeting permitting inefficiencies and red tape holding back the foundation of infrastructure projects – aggregates.
Members were quick to note that reforming the permitting process does not unravel existing environmental safeguards at both the federal and state level.
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Today, the Senate passed H.J. Res. 69 sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-AK). The joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act will overturn the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) rule on “Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife, and Public Participation and Closure Procedures, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska.”
“This CRA ensures that the role of states will not be supplanted by the federal government. States are the experts and more than capable of responsibly managing wildlife. If the federal government supersedes the State of Alaska, it could happen to any one of the lower 48 states. I look forward to President Trump signing this joint resolution into law, ” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said.
“Since its inception, I’ve worked to overturn this shortsighted and illegal rulemaking by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Not only was it a massive jurisdictional power grab, it clearly undermined the laws passed by Congress to protect Alaska’s authority to manage fish and wildlife upon all our lands. Overturning this rule could not be possible without the support of Senator Dan Sullivan and Senator Lisa Murkowski, the State of Alaska – who is fighting this battle in court – and the numerous stakeholders that joined our cause.” Chairman Emeritus Young stated.
On February 16, 2017, the House passed H.J. Res. 69 by a vote of 225-193.
On August, 5, 2016, FWS issued its final rule, which seizes authority away from the State of Alaska to manage fish and wildlife for both recreational and subsistence uses on federal wildlife refuges in Alaska.
The Congressional Review Act empowers Congress to review new federal regulations issued by government agencies. With the passage of a joint resolution and the signature of the president, Congress can overrule a regulation.
Click here for additional information on the rule.Read More
Today, the Subcommittee on Federal Lands held an oversight hearing on ways to improve infrastructure and management at the National Park Service (NPS) and the Forest Service (USFS).
“A reasonable person might conclude that federal agencies with deferred maintenance backlogs of $6 billion [USFS] and $12 billion [NPS] should first take care of the land it currently administers before acquiring new land. Yet, our land management agencies continue to push for additional land to be included in their systems. Real conservation means taking care of the things that you already own,” Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) said.
Prioritizing the care and management of existing federal lands was echoed by the panel. Executive Director of the Property and Environment Research Center Reed Watson pointed out the significant increase in units managed by the NPS over the past decade despite its growing maintenance backlog. NPS managed 390 units in 2006, today they manage 417 units.
“It is ironic and unfortunate that many of the laws and regulations intended to enhance the value and accessibility of our national parks and forests are, in fact, accelerating their deterioration,” Watson stated.
According to John Palatiello, President of the Business Coalition for Fair Competition, the massive federal estate rivals that of the Soviet Union and the federal government doesn’t know what it actually owns. He also referenced remarks from President Ronald Reagan during a question-and-answer session in Cleveland, OH in 1988:“West of the Mississippi River, your first glance at the map, you think the whole thing is red, the government owns so much property […] I don’t know any place other than the Soviet Union where the government owns more land than ours does.”
“Thousands of acres, valued at billions of dollars, could be in Federal ownership that Uncle Sam doesn’t know he owns,” Palatiello added. “Not only does the government lack a current, accurate land inventory, but dozens of agencies spend funds operating and maintaining a variety of out of date, inaccurate and duplicate single-purpose land records databases.”
In addition to creating an accurate inventory of the federal estate, the panel encouraged the use of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for deferred maintenance over further land acquisition.
“The majority of LWCF appropriations have actually exacerbated the federal land infrastructure crisis by stretching the agencies’ maintenance budgets over an ever-expanding the federal estate,” Watson said.
Other witnesses and members discussed streamlining cumbersome regulatory processes, increasing opportunities for philanthropic donations and engaging with volunteer and partner groups to improve infrastructure and management while saving costs and increasing efficiency.
Click here to read full witness testimony.Read More