Today, the Full Committee held an oversight hearing on “The Need for Transparent Financial Accountability in Territories' Disaster Recovery Efforts." The panel reviewed the financial needs of both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and the need and form of appropriate Federal oversight.
“Improved coordination and the need for transparent and accountable expenditures of taxpayer dollars are goals all parties working in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands can aspire to achieve,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) stated.
“The help Puerto Rico has received from Congress and the Administration has made a huge difference… but there is much more left to do in both the short and long term. It’s fair that taxpayers will want to know that process is being managed transparently and responsibly with the primary vision of helping Americans that live both in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to help them rebuild,” Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González (R-PR) stated.
On Puerto Rico, Bishop said the Island's government faces a “credibility gap," that must be rectified to ensure future support in Congress for adequate emergency funding.
“The lack of institutional controls…raises grave concerns about the government of Puerto Rico’s ability to competently negotiate, manage and implement infrastructure projects without significant independent oversight,” Bishop said.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló asserted the need for transparency in the use of federal recovery dollars, acknowledging fiscal mismanagement at the local level prior to and following the hurricanes’ devastation. His administration is requesting close to $100 billion in federal funding to support recovery and rebuilding.
“When I took office, it was clear that I believe that effective and transparent government was critical to economic progress and to the future of Puerto Rico,” Rosselló stated.
USVI’s Governor, Kenneth Mapp, estimates damages related to both Hurricane Irma and Maria exceed $7.5 billion. Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D-USVI) emphasized Congress’s obligation to support and sufficiently fund recovery efforts given their Constitutional responsibility to the territories.
“[W]e must build it back stronger and more sustainable than before,” Mapp said. “Our recovery will be long and difficult… but we cannot do it alone.”Click here to view full witness testimony. Read More
Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed H.R. 4239, the “Strengthening the Economy with Critical Untapped Resources to Expand American Energy Act” or “SECURE American Energy Act.” The bipartisan SECURE American Energy Act – sponsored by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), and Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Vicente González (D-TX) – overhauls federal lands energy policy to promote expanded exploration, development, and production of oil, gas and wind resources.
“The SECURE American Energy Act will create good jobs in communities all across our country, empowers states and optimizes onshore resource management, and raises revenue-sharing caps that dedicate critical funds to Louisiana’s coastal restoration. This bipartisan bill is good for jobs and good for Louisiana. I’m proud that it passed out of the Natural Resources Committee today, and look forward to passing it through the House with a strong vote and getting it on President Trump’s desk so he can sign it into law,” Whip Scalise said.
“After months of stakeholder input, Committee oversight and multiple legislative drafts, we have a comprehensive bipartisan upstream energy bill to bring to the House floor. These onshore and offshore provisions provide certainty and access to spur investment and job creation through the development of federal lands. With this legislation, we can unlock our vast energy potential, advance American energy dominance and generate revenues at all levels of government. I thank Whip Scalise for his continued leadership and the contributions of members, including Reps. Cuellar and González, in developing this bipartisan legislation,” Chairman Bishop said.
“It is encouraging to see legislators from both parties come together to craft policy that would stimulate responsible energy production and add more good paying jobs to our economy – the SECURE American Energy Act proves that this is possible,” Rep. González said. “Job creation, economic growth, and responsible energy production are things we can all agree on. I am pleased to see the bill favorably reported by the House Committee on Natural Resources and look forward to working with Majority Whip Scalise and Chairman Bishop to pass the bill when it comes up for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.”Read More
Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources examined challenges to Puerto Rico’s recovery and the role of the Financial Oversight and Management Board (Oversight Board) in the immediate and long-term. The “Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act” (PROMESA), signed into law in June 2016, created the Oversight Board to bring fiscal accountability to the territory and a path to economic recovery. Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement following the hearing:
"Today’s testimony will inform the work of Congress to ensure the Oversight Board and federal partners have the tools to coordinate an effective and sustained recovery. It is clear that a stronger mechanism will be necessary to align immediate recovery with long-term revitalization and rebuilding. The Oversight Board's mandate in this regard, while more complicated following the hurricanes, has not changed. This Committee will work to ensure it has the tools to effectively execute that mission and build a path forward for the Island and its residents."
During the hearing, Oversight Board Executive Director Natalie Jaresko discussed challenges to the Board’s mandate under PROMESA following the hurricanes. She outlined the potential need for Congress to grant broadened authorities to the Board for it to succeed.
“The Board is fully authorized to deal with the fiscal and debt issues that Puerto Rico faced before Hurricane Maria. After the hurricane it is even more critical that the Board be able to operate quickly and decisively,” Jaresko said.
“[T]o avoid uncertainty and lengthy delays in litigation, congressional reaffirmation of our exercise of our authority is welcome,” she added.
Noel Zamot, the Oversight Board’s Revitalization Coordinator and recently appointed Chief Transformation Officer for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, outlined plans to address infrastructure challenges and bring private capital to the Island.
“[W]e need dramatic action that creates a fast-moving, depoliticized entity driven by a compelling vision of an efficient, durable, sustainable and affordable power sector for the island,” Zamot stated.
Both Zamot and Jaresko stressed the need to further expedite permitting at every level for any private sector investment to aid recovery and rebuilding. Zamot noted that “economic growth and fast tracking projects is not inconsistent with being good stewards of the environment.”Click here to view full witness testimony. Read More
Today, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), joined by House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Vicente González (D-TX), introduced legislation to promote domestic energy development on both America’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and its vast onshore federal acreage. H.R. 4239, the “Strengthening the Economy with Critical Untapped Resources to Expand American Energy Act” or “SECURE American Energy Act,” will spur economic investment in federal lands, diversify and expand domestic energy production, create jobs, and increase revenues to federal and state governments.
Provisions in H.R. 4239 provide regulatory certainty and reliability, expand access to both conventional and renewable resources, establish revenue sharing with states, and streamline energy permitting processes to make federal lands and waters a competitive and attractive place for responsible development.
“The SECURE American Energy Act incentivizes offshore energy production by establishing revenue-sharing agreements for Alaska and qualified Atlantic states, and raises existing revenue-sharing caps so that Louisiana and other states can receive hundreds of millions in additional dollars to restore our coast. I am proud to introduce this important legislation with my colleagues Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah, Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas, and Congressman Vincente Gonzalez of Texas,” Scalise said. “The SECURE American Energy Act opens up more areas for responsible energy exploration, creating good jobs in communities all across our country. Our bill empowers states and optimizes onshore resource management by delegating certain permitting functions to state regulatory agencies instead of Washington. I’m proud to introduce this important bipartisan bill with my colleagues, and I look forward to passing it through the House and getting it on President Trump’s desk so he can sign it into law and we can create more jobs.”
“The SECURE American Energy Act harnesses responsible development on America’s federal lands to create long term energy strength and stability. Through cooperative federalism and commonsense regulatory practices we can fundamentally improve the way our federal lands and waters are managed for oil, gas and wind development. I thank Whip Scalise for his leadership and members on both sides of the aisle for their work and contributions to this bipartisan bill, and look forward to swiftly moving it through Committee and the House,” Bishop said.
“The United States is a world leader in both the production and development of conventional and renewable resources,” Cuellar said. “The SECURE American Energy Act will further invest in the future of our nation’s energy landscape by making sure federal lands are also available for responsible energy development. In doing so, it will create good jobs for American families and increase revenues for local, state and federal governments. I thank Majority Whip Scalise, Chairman Bishop and Congressman Gonzalez for working on this bipartisan bill to promote economic and labor growth through responsible energy development.”
“As a South Texan, I have seen first-hand how oil and natural gas production can revitalize local economies, create jobs and move the U.S. toward energy independence. This legislation proposes important reforms that will allow the rest of our country to unlock vast economic development and energy capital that will support our nation for years to come,” González said.Click here to learn more about the bipartisan bill. Read More
Today, the House passed H.R. 2936, the “Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017.” Introduced by Rep. Westerman (R-AR), the bipartisan bill reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfire and dramatically improves the health and resiliency of federal forests and grasslands.
“This year has proven to be another catastrophic year for wildfires. Dozens of lives have been lost, thousands of homes destroyed and millions of acres burned. Congress spoke today and said enough is enough. We must give the Forest Service the tools it needs to stop these fires before they start. We must end the practice of fire borrowing and treat wildfires as the natural disasters they are, funding recovery efforts through FEMA. We must do what is right for our environment and stop these catastrophic wildfires. I thank Speaker Ryan, Leader McCarthy and Chairman Bishop for their leadership on this issue, and I thank my co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle,” Rep. Westerman said.
“This is a bill based on a simple idea – that we must do more to expand active management in federal forests," Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) stated. "With this bill, we tackle not only the symptoms of the crisis but also its root causes. We provide the resources for our fire-fighters, but also tools for our land managers to improve conditions on the ground and proactively mitigate the threat of wildfire.”
“Our national forests are becoming increasingly overgrown with hazardous fuel due to lack of active management. The ‘Resilient Federal Forests Act’ is a vital piece of legislation for the Forest Service, allowing for more authority and flexibility for improved forest management. As a member of both the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees, I understand how important it is we provide our Forest Service with the tools needed to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires, insect and disease infestation and damage to municipal watersheds. I applaud my colleagues for their support of this common-sense legislation to combat future forest fires,” Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA) said.
“The ‘Resilient Federal Forests Act’ begins to move us back toward sound and scientific forest management practices. It requires forest managers to consider the cost of no action alternatives; it streamlines fire and disease prevention programs and assures that fire-killed timber can be quickly removed to create both revenues and room to restore fire-damaged lands. It ends the practice of raiding prevention funds to fight fires. It streamlines onerous environmental review processes without sacrificing environmental protection and provides forest managers with alternatives to resolve frivolous lawsuits,” Subcommittee on Federal Lands Chairman Tom McClintock (R-CA) stated.Click here to learn more about the bill. Read More
Today, following months of hearings and input from stakeholders, Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) released discussion draft legislation to overhaul federal lands energy policy. The legislation reforms existing regulatory frameworks for energy development in America’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and the vast onshore acreage under federal ownership.
“America’s shale revolution ushered in an era of energy leadership and innovation. As state and private lands benefited from greater investment and development, misguided federal policies prevented our vast federal estate from experiencing the same fortune. Despite abundant undiscovered resources, our federal lands and waters have been held hostage by Washington bureaucracy. This comprehensive overhaul of upstream energy policy creates the regulatory certainty that is needed to spur economic investment on federal lands. With these reforms, we can harness the full potential of our domestic resources, increase revenues to federal and state governments and build a foundation of energy strength at home and abroad,” Chairman Bishop said.Read More
Today, the House passed H.R. 3279, the “Helium Extraction Act of 2017.” Introduced by Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA), the bill amends the Mineral Leasing Act to authorize the Bureau of Land Management to lease federal land for the purpose of helium production under the same lease terms used for oil and gas development.
“With this bill, we seek responsible development of another critical natural resource that will provide increased American security, economic stability and domestic job creation. I thank Rep. Cook for his leadership on this important measure and look forward to working with the Senate to get it to the president’s desk,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said.
“Helium has become irreplaceable in our space, defense and medical industries. Without this bill, we could become dangerously dependent on unstable foreign countries for our supply of helium. This bill encourages the development of American sources of helium and will boost both our national security and economy. I’m grateful to the House for passing this bill and look forward to it becoming law,” Rep. Cook said.
Helium, which is a byproduct of the natural gas extraction process, is an essential element used in medical, defense and energy related services such as MRIs, air-to-air missile guidance systems and semiconductors.
As the single largest producer of helium in the world, uncertainty in the American market in tandem with the recent turmoil in the Middle East region, including Qatar’s political crisis, has far-reaching impacts on global supply. H.R. 3279 works to alleviate potential future supply concerns by facilitating the domestic production of helium on federal lands, while providing a fair return to the taxpayer.
The Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a legislative hearing on a discussion draft of the bill on June 21, 2017. Rep. Cook introduced H.R. 3279 on July 18, 2017 and it passed Committee on July 26, 2017.Click here to learn more about H.R. 3279. Read More
Accounts from recent catastrophic wildfires in Northern California depict a terrifying scene:
“Hurtling down a mile-long dirt driveway, the wildfire closing in, Eli Monroe pulled to a stop at a crossroads. He sat for a moment with his girlfriend, his parents in the car behind them, deciding which way to turn on Tomki Road.”
The article, titled, “Wildfire Victims Had Only Seconds to Make Fateful Choices,” is as horrifying as it sounds. This family, pursued by wildfires unnaturally fast and hot, had to make a fateful choice. Thankfully, they lived to tell the tale.
Their story, one of many over the past few weeks, should strike a human chord. It also suggests a lesson to policymakers in Washington. Our position, though not identical, is analogous. Congress too is coming to a crossroads in our national forest and fire policy. The choice we make – like Eli’s – will carry fateful implications. Lives and livelihoods hang in the balance.
We have two paths open to us: the status quo is one; a sustainable, scientifically proven solution is the other. In one direction, “flames [lick] the roadside,” as they did for Eli; the other direction is lined with healthy, well-managed forests, rather than ticking time bombs waiting to go up in smoke.
Do we continue to merely throw money at a systemic problem, hoping it will somehow solve the underlying cause, or do we take the fork in the road, and start attacking the root of the dysfunction?
National attention is rightly focused on California, but uncontrollable wildfires rage every year on federal lands throughout almost every state in the West. Every year these fires constitute emergencies, and charred communities certainly deserve the funding and resources they need to combat them.
However, merely extending fire-fighting funding without addressing what got us here in the first place would be an abdication of our duty. It would be like driving a car headlong into the “flames [that lick] the roadside.”
Catastrophic wildfires differ from other natural disasters (like hurricanes) in one important respect: they can be contained and even prevented. We can affect the extent to which they ruin lives. The only way to permanently reassert that control, however, is to prioritize fire prevention, not simply fire suppression.
Forest management is the indispensable second half of the puzzle. It is no longer debatable that proactive management — prescribed burns, salvaging of dead trees, responsible timber harvesting, among other prescriptions — reduce wildfire severity. According to the Forest Service, 90 percent of fuel management treatments reduce wildfire intensity, allowing better and less costly control and suppression by firefighters.
“Prevention is the best medicine.” “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” These adages are usually applied to human health. They are just as truthfully applied to forest health.
Unfortunately, statutes originally intended to protect the environment, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, are now working against those ends. An unholy combination of activist litigation designed to manipulate policy and bureaucratic inefficiency have resulted in bloated environmental reviews that often take as much as a half a decade to complete; such analyses were designed to take a few months.
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed by these groups to prevent the Forest Service from pursuing routine thinning and restoration projects. As more and more time and money are consumed by regulatory analysis and court battles, scarce agency resources are expended and fewer acres of high-risk forest lands are treated.
As the chief of the U.S. Forest Service under President Obama put it, “[i]f we can find a way to address the concerns that drive litigation, we can increase the pace and scale of the work that needs to be done.”
This week, the House will consider the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017. The bill, developed in conjunction with Forest Service leadership under the past two administrations, provides a new path forward. It provides the agency with streamlined environmental review authorities to expand vegetation management and fuel reduction projects. These are tools that can be used immediately to restore forest resiliency and protect communities.
Whether Congress passes the Resilient Federal Forests Act as a stand-alone bill or includes similar provisions in a future legislative package, we must enact reforms to increase the pace and scale of hazardous fuel reduction. Hurling money at the flames without management reforms accomplishes nothing more than assuaging our own guilty consciences.
To my colleagues in Congress: like Eli Monroe, we have come to a crossroads. We can continue driving down a path of destruction, or we can choose a better way and begin preventing uncontrollable fires from starting in the first place. This is an emergency, and we must act quickly, but that does not mean we cannot act prudently.
In doing so, we will prevent the loss of human life, improve the environment and protect taxpayers. Anything less is to wash our hands of more preventable tragedies.
Bishop represents Utah’s 1st District and is chairman of the Natural Resources Committee.
Click HERE to view this article in the Washington Examiner