In a joint subcommittee hearing, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment met to discuss “The Role of the Interior Department in the Deepwater Horizon Disaster.” The purpose of the hearing was to examine the Interior Department's actions leading up to and following the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20, 2010. Current Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was joined by previous Secretaries Gale Norton (2001-2006) and Dirk Kempthorne (2006-2009) in testifying before the subcommittees. It was the first time the three have appeared together in front of Congress, as well as the first time that Kempthorne has spoken publicly on the disaster.
The Obama Administration, Bush Administration, Department of the Interior (DOI), and BP all faced harsh criticism during committee members’ opening statements. Chairman Edward Markey (D-MA) and others discussed the role of former Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force Report in the lead-up to the disaster. There has been widespread concern from House Democrats that the report prioritized speed rather than safety in the offshore drilling permitting process. Markey went so far as to describe the task force report as the “first condition for this disaster.” Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) countered that the panel should look into the role of DOI and the Obama Administration, asking “(who) was watching what was going on at the drilling operation?”
In further opening statements, committee members expressed interest in identifying the causes of the tragedy so that problems may be avoided in the future, while avoiding unnecessary finger pointing. "This shouldn't be about playing the blame game" said Representative Jane Harman (D-CA). There were many comments on the moratorium on offshore drilling, with committee members Steve Scalise (R-LA), John Shadegg (R-AZ), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Baron Hill (D-IN), Robert Latta (R-OH), Al Green (D-TX), John Sullivan (R-OK) and others supporting an end to the moratorium . Charlie Melancon (D-LA) added that abandoning wells mid-way through the drilling process has the potential to be very dangerous, and that “moratoriums are ill-advised.” In his testimony, Secretary Salazar addressed his reasons for reissuing the moratorium through November 30, 2010. Salazar said that the moratorium will remain in place until he is satisfied that drilling can continue in a safe manner, with adequate plans to deal with blowout containment issues, and with adequate oil spill response capability. There was concern expressed by several committee members that jobs would be leaving the gulf as drill rigs find other areas to drill outside of the United States. Norton agreed, saying that “you don't ground all the airplanes because there was one problem,” it is time to do a complete inspection of all rigs, address any issues, and put the rigs back to work, because “once they are moved… then they tend to stay in those locations… and it will be very hard for that industry to be rebuilt.”
In her testimony, Norton emphasized that it has been nine years since her time at the helm of the DOI, and spoke primarily on her work in responding to Hurricane Katrina. Norton and Kempthorne defended the ethics of the former Minerals Management Service (MMS), with Kempthorne saying that “99.9% of DOI employees are ethical, well intentioned.” When reports of misconduct at MMS surfaced during Kempthorne's tenure, he fired, disciplined, or retired the guilty parties. Both former secretaries were very critical of the recent MMS restructuring. Secretary Salazar signed a secretarial order splitting the MMS into three offices in order to avoid conflicts of interest, but Norton pointed out that “if you let the idea of having a strong separation between industry and employees go too far, you cut off the lines of communication…you have to have very high ethical standards, but you can't… only hire people who have no experience and no real understanding and expertise about what decisions need to be made.” Norton later said that federal regulators must be able to work with industry experts who are on the cutting-edge of technology. Salazar, however, criticized this close relationship between federal officials and industry experts, saying that the former Royalty in Kind program at MMS in particular had become a “magnet for…corruption.”
Both previous secretaries addressed the 40-year record of success that the offshore drilling industries had enjoyed before the Deepwater disaster, and the impact this had on DOI's management strategies. The witnesses agreed that this period of success resulted in fewer inspectors than were necessary to ensure safety of the increasing number of offshore drill rigs. Salazar also addressed this idea, saying that “prior administrations and this administration have not done as much as we could have done relative to making sure that there was safe production along the continental shelf… (we) were lulled into a sense of safety.” Kempthorne also noted that the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) that were in place for offshore drilling were based on the probability that an oil spill was low, and clearly future EIAs will not be able to make these same assumptions.
With regard to the recently proposed bull-head kill or static kill option for stopping flow from the Macondo well, Salazar said that he is relying on the directors of all of the National Labs and the head of USGS for direction, and will “allow science to lead us to the appropriate conclusion” on whether or not to perform a static kill of the well.
Joe Barton (R-TX) questioned Salazar on the blowout preventer tests that are supposed to occur every two weeks on offshore drill rigs. Salazar explained that the tests are conducted by companies, and that as current regulation stands, inspectors from MMS are not actually present for the tests. Salazar hopes that with new regulations, inspectors should not have to take the word of the company on the results of these important tests. Barton also asked why the Jones Act was never waived in the initial management of the clean-up. The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a vestige of WWI when U.S. shipping was vulnerable to German U-boats. The act restricts coastal shipping between U.S. ports to U.S.-built vessels owned by U.S. citizens, which may prevent foreign aid during disasters like Deepwater Horizon. Salazar explained that the Jones Act never got in the way of getting the international community “on board,” though Salazar did not provide an answer as to why international aid has allegedly been refused in the management of the disaster. Kempthorne added that he did not believe that all of the available international assets were used.
While the hearing retained an air of mutual respect between former and current secretaries and the committees, it was clear that the committee members hold DOI leadership decision-making in the last ten years partly responsible for the Deepwater disaster. What was also clear, as former secretary Kempthorne stated, is that “this will forever change offshore drilling regulation.”
Committee Members Present
On February 3, 2010, the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics met with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) watchdogs to discuss the future direction of the agency. NASA was cited by the watchdog panel for having several major issues surrounding internal organization and utilization of federal funds. The fiscal year (FY) 2011 Presidential budget request would terminate NASA’s Constellation project – which was developing vehicles to replace NASA’s fleet of space shuttles by 2015. Topics covered in the hearing ranged from general concern over the loss of human space flight capabilities, to the likelihood of private sector collaboration. The panel stressed that the issues raised need to be addressed by NASA to ensure a successful future.
Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) opened the hearing with remarks focusing on the recent scrapping of the Constellation project. She compared space exploration by astronauts to the drive and ingenuity of the first North American colonists. Ranking Member Pete Olson (R-TX) echoed her concern, and reflected a similar sentiment in his opening statement. Ranking Member of the full committee, Ralph Hall (R-TX), was allotted time by Olson to give an opening statement. Hall expressed disappointment with the President’s request exclaiming, “he could think of no civil or federal agency that matches its record of scientific achievement or one with a record of fostering new technologies that have helped to transform the American economy.” Hall said the Constellation program received past support from Congress, and the American taxpayers had already invested $9 billion on developing next generation human space flight capabilities.
Paul Martin, the Inspector General for NASA, discussed five issues that will need to be addressed in order for NASA to move forward. His testimony was based on the annual memorandum from the Office Inspector General. The five include: “transitioning from the space shuttle to the next generation of space vehicles; managing risk to people, equipment, and mission; financial management; acquisition and contracting processes; [and] information technology security.” Martin noted that these issues were complex and multifaceted, and had no simple solution. He concluded NASA required a steady stream of funding in order to meet many critical mission objectives.
Cristina T. Chaplain, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), reviewed three main topics of concern for NASA as covered in the GAO report NASA: Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects. The report focused on projects that had not progressed past the implementation period, had launch delays, and on how the agency manages contracts. Lack of oversight and lax money management were two consistent problems observed. Also disorganization had led to substantial cost-overruns throughout the history of the agency. She cited these as being complex issues that required complex solutions. Chaplain suggested a revamping of agency policy and more oversight in future project management.
Vice Admiral Joseph W. Dyer, Chair of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), suggested models that could be developed for NASA. His testimony focused on the suggestions prepared in the ASAP’s 2009 Annual Report. One would rely on the technology already developed for the Constellation project and the other would focus on development of a system by private industry. Dyer reminded the committee that space exploration is a “dangerous enterprise” and each project will have its own set of inherent risks and costs. As the chair of ASAP, he strongly discouraged the extension of the current NASA space shuttle program, saying it is the most dangerous thing NASA could do.
Giffords asked Chaplain if the issues at NASA arose from underestimating the technical complexity of the projects or from a lack of discipline. Chaplain responded that she felt it was a combination of a lot of things, including underestimating complexity and lacking discipline. She encouraged more project development at the headquarters level to reduce problems. Giffords asked why the GAO report omitted the successes of the Ares I project, to which Chaplain responded that the report was already in production but Ares I would be discussed in subsequent revisions.
Despite concerns that the loss of human spaceflight would reduce NASA to just an Earth science organization, Olson suggested that perhaps NASA could work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop a model where private companies could be subcontracted to develop the space program. Martin felt such a thing would be “foolish” and that the model currently used by NASA should be kept “in house.” Chaplain, although unfamiliar with FAA models, saw potential as long as there was more rigorous oversight. Dyer saw potential, but noted that the FAA lacked knowledge in space, while NASA lacks experience in developing safety codes for use by subcontractors wishing to pursue human spaceflight endeavors.
Donna Edwards (D-MD), citing the GAO report, asked if there was much difference between the cost-overruns for NASA projects compared to Department of Defense (DOD) projects, considering that NASA was being “decimated” by the FY2011 budget request. Chaplain said there were similarities between the cost-overruns for NASA and DOD projects and that both had seen budgetary cuts. Edwards asked if abandoning the Constellation project altogether was actually going to substantially lower the cost of running NASA. Chaplain responded that with or without a human spaceflight program, the agency problems cited by the panel would still exist.
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) countered Edwards saying that comparing NASA to the DOD was not an appropriate comparison. Instead the committee should consider the cost-overruns for NASA versus a space exploration business, such as SpaceX. Chaplain responded that, although there was some comparison, industry does not have the same standards in place that NASA does. Rohrabacher went on to ask Dyer if commercial space companies were any less safe than NASA. Dyer responded that the safety information for human space travel had not been made available from NASA, and even if it is released, commercial space companies would lack the 50 years of experience NASA has acquired. Dyer noted that thus far, commercial space companies were only licensed to carry cargo. Hall inquired if standards would be industry-wide. Dyer suspected that there would be design differences, but that the safety standards would be the same for the entire commercial space industry.
Representatives Charlie Wilson (D-OH) and Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL) were particularly interested in how losing the Constellation program would affect local economies. Wilson was curious about how the ASAP codes would be altered, since they had been written under the assumption that Constellation would be executed. Martin said it would be up to the agency, but Chaplain felt that NASA had great tools and internal processes developed specifically to be flexible when plans change. Kosmas, whose district contains the Kennedy Space Center, wondered about workforce transitioning, and even if the shuttles could be refurbished for further human spaceflight. Dyer responded that extending the life of the shuttles would be costly, expensive and the most dangerous option.
The witnesses noted the NASA facilities have a significant backlog of upgrades and repairs totaling about $2.5 billion. They suggested that this may be an appropriate time to focus on internal upgrades, as well as reorganization within NASA rather than developing the next generation of human spaceflight right away. This might provide a way to transition the current workforce from the current shuttle system to an agency better prepared for a bright new future in space exploration.
Links to witness and representative statements, reports and webcast can be found here.
Committee Members Present
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee held a hearing on November 4, 2009, in order to discuss the interim report and direction of the President’s Interagency Oceans Policy Task Force (IOPTF). Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) showed strong support for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in her opening remarks, saying that NOAA plays a pivotal role in dealing with these issues. She continued that “the administration should acknowledge and strengthen NOAA’s role, and literally give them a seat at the table of the National Ocean Council.” She then supported the “enactment of an organic act for NOAA.” Ranking Member Olympia Snowe (R-ME) then lamented the term “best available science,” typically used in determining resource management decisions, which she considered sometimes to be inadequate. To that end, she and Cantwell had authored legislation establishing a budget of $8 billion for NOAA by 2011, and an agreement to double that budget to 2013, to allow scientists to achieve “indisputable” science. “NOAA must remain our nation’s leader” in ocean policy, said Snowe, and she criticized the IOPTF’s interim report for not prescribing the agency a great enough role. Mark Begich (D-AK) pointed out that he agrees with the interim report’s support for the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Bill Nelson (D-FL) finished by thanking NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco for “bringing science to the question of the oceans,” describing how lonely it has been in his fight to prevent open drilling policies in the waters around Florida.
Chair of the IOPTF Nancy Sutley then initiated the testimony. She noted that the interim report contains priorities for the administration in addition to proposals for a national policy, and that they were now moving towards an integrated marine resource management approach. Jane Lubchenco explained NOAA’s role as the nation’s primary ocean agency, and suggested that the agency is well positioned to manage the many aspects of overall ocean policy. According to Lubchenco, “NOAA’s goal… is to move towards a more robust, holistic management approach that reduces ocean-human use conflicts and ecosystem impacts, while enabling sustainable use of oceans.” Lubchenco furthered that NOAA was committed to implementing those recommendations. “The nation’s oceans are counting on us,” she finished. Admiral Thad Allen, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, then commented that “we need to establish a sustainable balance between use and conservation,” and that one of the tools to help achieve this was marine spatial planning. Spatial planning would provide a framework upon which ocean use decisions could be made in a clear and transparent way, and help the Coast Guard to later enforce those policies. He continued by supporting the U.S. signing on to “Law of the Sea,” arguing that it would be good for relations with the international maritime community, and commending the Task Force for considering Arctic issues. Lastly, Associate Undersecretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI) Laura Davis testified by describing some of the process the task force has followed, including a series of local meetings around the country with interested citizens. She noted that the agencies had already elicited a new level of communication for the “sister agencies” involved with stewardship of the oceans.
The predominant question for the panel revolved around leadership of the ocean policy once it has been established. Cantwell asked who should be leading this. Sutley responded that the consensus of the task force was to have a National Ocean Council (NAC) be responsible including representation from all of the involved parties, and to be chaired jointly by the Council for Environmental Quality and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Lubchenco and Allen agreed that one single entity could not be responsible for administering such vast responsibilities, but that it required strong central leadership to bring involved parties together. Lubchenco admitted that NOAA has “a key role to play,” while Allen conferred that the Coast Guard should play a support role. Davis concurred with the recommendations from the witnesses.
Snow remarked that “it defies, frankly, reason” that NOAA would not have a position on the NAC, much less leadership of it. Begich questioned why it would not make more sense for two secretary-level positions to chair the NAC. Sutley responded that it was the consensus that with such broad, inter-agency jurisdiction of this policy, it made sense to have a higher level of administration responsible. Lubchenco responded that in this case, the Secretary of Commerce superseded her responsibilities to represent the Department of Commerce (DOC) on the council. Snowe questioned if then it made more sense for NOAA to be individually chartered and have an “organic act” like other agencies. For NOAA to have an organic act, Lubchenco agreed, but to comment on its removal from within the umbrella of the DOC, Lubchenco said was “beyond my pay grade.”
Questioning then drifted to individual components of the policy. Maritime spatial planning came up repeatedly, with Snowe questioning its implementation and Begich sharing his experiences with a small scale project as Mayor of Anchorage. George LeMieux (R-FL) also asked whether there was a place for tidal renewable energy in the policy or the plans of the DOI, which Davis responded was under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rather than DOI.
The second panel then began with Billy Frank Jr., Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. Frank stressed the importance and potential value of including the Indian tribes in the process of crafting and enforcing ocean policy. “If you want success, include the tribes.” He asked that this policy not turn into one that is sitting on a shelf, as so many he has seen come before are now. Frank said that the Commission supports regionalized enforcement of this policy. Dr. Dennis Takashi-Kelso, Executive Vice President of The Ocean Conservancy then testified that although we cannot immediately upend the processes leading to climate change, “the ocean is trying to tell us something” with the effects we have seen so far, and we can deal with its symptoms on a case by case basis. Kelso then stated the Conservancy’s support for spatial planning. The Coastal Conservation Association’s Matthew Paxton warned that the ocean policy being crafted would almost exclusively be the product of bureaucracy. He urged the panel to put additional oversight in place, hold additional hearings, and gain more regional input. Carolyn Elefant of the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition argued that although reports have shown that ocean based renewables could provide roughly ten percent of our nation’s energy needs, there was no prescription for their employment anywhere in the interim report. She argued that while spatial planning is a good process, implementation efforts should be careful not to stop existing activities. Elefant said that the permitting process for ocean renewables is too complicated, and that states and regional roles should be kept in focus.
Questions for the panel first considered NOAA’s role in ocean policy. Cantwell asked whether NOAA has a role to play in spatial planning, which each panel member agreed. Takashi-Kelso pointed out that it would have to be in coordination with local authorities though, to maintain the regional integrity of the program. Takashi-Kelso later pointed out that NOAA would need a mandate to be successful on this, lamenting the “string cheese of authorities” which would permeate a more de-centralized organization. Begich questioned Takashi-Kelso on a discussed moratorium on offshore oil and gas development, which Takashi-Kelso ensured him was more like a “time out” to properly study the individual ecosystems affected by drilling projects and to allow the spatial planning work to be done. Begich then asked if the U.S. should accompany that “time out” with an economic analysis of the measure, to which Takashi-Kelso responded it was more important to do a compartmental approach to instituting the planning process. The government should pick a few silo sites as test runs, and then expand in smaller areas progressively rather than trying to zone the entire ocean at once. Cantwell asked Paxton whether he thought the U.S. should proceed with ecosystem based management, which Paxon said that he supported but would like to see a “very concise explanation of what ecosystem based management is, before we say go do it.” Takeshi-Kelso retorted, “I don’t see how it happens without a mandate.” Frank closed the meeting by further stressing the role the tribes can play in environmental affairs, including their tacit knowledge of climate and its profound changes. Cantwell remarked, “I’ve always said, environmentalists make great ancestors.”
The testimony of the witnesses, statements of committee members, and a webcast of the hearing can be found here.
Committee Members Present:
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing on October 15, 2009 in order to revisit the Clean Water Act, passed 37 years before. Entitled “The Clean Water Act after 37 Years: Recommitting to the Protection of the Nation's Waters,” the hearing began with Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) welcoming the witnesses and attendees. Oberstar explained this hearing was meant to evaluate the Act’s success and survey water issues today, rather than just observe the Act’s previous success as the hearing just two years ago did for the commemorative 35th anniversary event. There has been much progress made, according to Oberstar, however there is much to be done. He then yielded to a number of members present for opening statements. The Ranking Member John Mica (R-FL) then stated that he and his fellow Republicans also want to preserve our environment, but that they want to do so as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. Numerous Republicans seconded that point. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson then began her testimony, focusing mainly on the need for greater enforcement efforts on the part of the EPA and its delegates.
One of the greatest challenges in overall care for the nation’s water is that most states take responsibility for their own water, setting their own regulations beyond federal measures and enforcing as they see fit. Jackson declared that a significant issue is raised by some states enforcing environmental laws while others do not. Those states being lenient in enforcement are promoting an atmosphere in which business is prone to move in and be equally lenient in its environmental integrity, with the states enforcing the law losing out. These lax states are risking the health of their environment and their citizens in order to promote their economies, effectively rendering an unfair economic playing field throughout the nation. Jackson, in her time thus far with the EPA, has made it a point to concentrate her efforts on stepping up enforcement. She is working to see that agreements can be reached across states so that everyone is on the same page for enforcement issues. Through utilizing creative approaches to isolate the most severe infringements, and enhanced oversight of state enforcement and permitting programs, Jackson intends for EPA to “set the bar” and “hold states accountable.” In the realm of specific compliance issues, animal feeding facilities stood out as a group to more closely monitor. Furthermore, EPA will continue their efforts by working to employ 21st century technology, to more easily gather and publicize information.
The first questions for Jackson regarded her focus on the program. Steve Kagen (D-WI) asked Jackson if there were any sustained efforts in prevention being leveled at the issue, beyond her emphasis on enforcement. Jackson made it clear that enforcement should help to prevent future transgressions, but that there were other components to aid in prevention. The point of the permitting program was to identify potential sources of pollution, so that the EPA knows where they are and can continue to check for compliance in the future.Another sequence of questioning, mainly from Republicans, considered how municipalities could fund large scale clean up efforts. John Duncan (R-TN) asked Jackson if there were any plans, for the creation of a new trust fund, like the aviation or highway trust funds, to help pay for the costs of large scale work. Jackson replied that the administration has no plans for any additional trust funds, but that there has been a significant increase in funds for such projects. Several other Republicans noted such concerns as well, and Jackson reassured them that the EPA was interested in working with them to solve such issues.
Laura Richardson (D-CA) pointed out that Jackson had failed to mention ocean pollution, and that it was still a significant issue. Jackson agreed, explaining that the oceans and coasts are the ultimate resting place for a large percentage of water pollution. She mentioned that the EPA has initiated several programs to target these issues, but that her re-invigorated enforcement efforts would be most helpful. Additionally, Republicans pointed out that some constituents worried that these enforcement issues would be dealt with by an unnecessarily “heavy hand,” and wondered if the EPA would work with such organizations to help them achieve compliance. Jackson noted that these laws have been established for some time and that most of the sources of pollution she is speaking of are from organizations that are repeat, almost habitual offenders. It depends upon the state, Jackson also noted, and explained that in states with strong enforcement records there should be no issue, but that the EPA was willing to work with anyone to reach compliance.
The remainder of the questions leveled at Jackson regarded the clarity of the law. Harry Teague (D-NM) declared that his constituents would very much like to comply with any regulations, but his constituents were unclear on the laws. He asked Jackson if she would be receptive to the idea of removing the word “navigable” from the Clean Water Act, pointing out how contentious this term was, and recommending instead a crystal clear set of specifications on what water was covered. Jackson agreed that clarity is a major issue and welcomed the chance to work with Teague and the chair to reach some standards in this regard. Frank Lobiondo (R-NJ) agreed with the clarity point, acknowledging that the EPA, the Coast Guard, and some thirty states will have individual regulations to meet.. Jackson agreed, planning an effort to get “all the players in a room to try to come up with…a set of rules of the road.” Oberstar then interjected, recommending that rather than trying to amend the Clean Water Act, perhaps a more practical method would be some sort of pact between the states and involved agencies. Jackson agreed, but noted that “it’s hard to put that genie back in the bottle.” Lobiondo agreed that it was a noble effort, but that “it would take a whole bag of pixie dust” to reach such an agreement. Nick Rahall (D-WV) then asked if “clarity and certainty” are the goals for enforcement moving forward, and Jackson agreed that is needed.
The final issue Jackson was questioned on had to do with the EPA’s stance on mountaintop mining. Shelley Capito (R-WV) pressed Jackson for information regarding a series of permits for West Virginia mines which have been held up now for months. Jackson explained that the process entailed the Army Corps of Engineers reviewing and granting permits, while the EPA looked on and determined permits for which it believed “enhanced review” was necessary. The permits in question were under this category, and once EPA had determined that, it was up to the Army Corps to begin a sixty day joint review of the merits of the application with EPA. The permits pending were waiting for the Army Corps to begin review, and were being held up because “valley fill” mining as prescribed in those permits is scientifically shown to increases water quality issues. Rahall frankly admitted to Jackson that many within his state are worried that the administration and the EPA are trying to stop coal mining altogether, asking her if she cared to comment. Jackson stated clearly that no such “hidden agenda” existed, and that there was nothing to worry about in that regard. She added that she believed “coal can be mined safely and cleanly,” and that it is EPA’s role to speak to those issues and those issues only.
The second panel began with Judy Treml of Luxemburg Wisconsin describing how her infant daughter was exposed to e-coli as a result of runoff from a nearby farm contained a large amount of waste, which eventually ended up in the surrounding wells. She pleaded with the committee and the EPA to do something about jurisdiction of ground water, so that such an issue can be avoided in the future. Phil Hare (D-IL) voiced his disgust with the situation, and told Treml that he would personally work with her to have those problems resolved. Jackson then explained during questioning that in scenarios like this, jurisdiction is complicated because of the specific details of the case. Next, Dennis Kavanaugh of the Sandy Hook Waterman’s Alliance discussed the regulations and limitations on a once proud fishing industry due to pollution coming from a series of publically owned sites which discharge into the waterways of Monmouth County, New Jersey. Patricia Butterfield, of the American Nurses Association and the Washington State Nurses Association, noted the research she and her colleagues have done in working with rural families to determine, educate about, and cope with poor water quality. She encouraged a greater connection between public health officials and environmental agencies, and brought attention to the special difficulty poor families have in dealing with polluted resources.
The final panel was kicked off by Anu K. Mittal, the Director of the Natural Resources and Environment Team for the Government Accountability Office (GAO). She summarized a series of reports her office has conducted on the EPA’s enforcement practices, highlighting some of the issues leading to the disparity in enforcement seen: differing philosophies of enforcement staff, limitations on resources, and incomplete and inaccurate enforcement data. Mittal acknowledged that the recommendations from the latest report, including collecting more data and developing improved performance measures, still stand. Wade T. Najjum, from the Office of the Inspector General of the EPA, testified that oversight of delegations to the states, as well as EPA’s organization and infrastructure prevent effective management and enforcement. R. Steven Brown, Director of the Environmental Council of the States, then testified on some of the issues facing state enforcement activities, including clarity of communication with the EPA, and state resource cuts.
Tom Porta of the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators described the scope of the challenge to enforce water quality standards, and noted that considering the great difficulty of the task at hand, water quality professionals are doing a good job. John Rumpler of Environment America then countered with data demonstrating that the number of on-compliance incidents in the U.S. every year is still dramatic. Jay P. Shimshack, professor of economics at Tulane University, then demonstrated that substantial increases in enforcement effectiveness can be seen by a “modest additional investment” in traditional monitoring initiatives. Finally, Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project testified as a former Director of EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement. He maintained that enforcement efforts need to be expanded, through EPA stepping up oversight of state enforcement programs, funding for such programs allowed by permit fees, closing of Clean Water Act loopholes and making high enough penalties so non-compliance is more expensive than compliance.
Questions for the last panel primarily concentrated on the issue of disparities between states programs before reiterating several issues previously discussed. Oberstar queried how the economic benefit to companies is calculated in assessing fines for their noncompliance. Mittal remarked that the GAO’s survey shows huge disparities between states’ calculation methods. Porta added that the EPA does have a program by which economic benefit can be calculated, but that it tends to produce exorbitant numbers for rather innocuous offenses, and that it would need to be recalibrated if it were to be used more seriously and widely. Additionally, it is difficult to asses the true economic benefit companies derive from noncompliance because so many cases are different, and the number of factors involved are complicated and data with which to calculate it is limited. Oberstar then asked Najjum to comment briefly on the issues he had mentioned regarding the organization of the EPA, which Najjum responded is a fairly complicated issue. Essentially, the structure by which EPA is organized is built on stovepipes of “media” rather than “function” as would be more efficient. The agency has been incapable of making the changes necessary to reorganize itself around “function”.
Oberstar then reviewed the policies that seemed to be take away points from the day, including: publication of enforcement action, data access, research funding, traditional monitoring, oversight of state programs and staffing, inconsistency in enforcement, and functional administrative problems within the agency. Oberstar concluded that these issues committed the committee to “serious oversight of the EPA enforcement program,” including impressing upon the agency changes which can be made administratively, and taking legislative action where necessary.
A link to the witnesses’ testimony and a video cast of the hearing can be found here.
Committee Members Present
The Senate Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on October 8, 2009 in part to vet President Obama’s choice for the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Chairman Jeff Bingaman, (D-NM) welcomed the witness, calling the USGS the “the principle source of scientific information about our nation’s land, minerals, and water resources.” Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) noted the importance of the USGS in educating the public about the nation’s natural resources, and the practical relevance the USGS’s work, especially to her and her constituents living along the “ring of fire.” Representative Sam Farr (D-CA) then proceeded to introduce his constituent, Marcia McNutt. He detailed a list of McNutt’s accomplishments, including her work at MIT, her champion steering of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), and her membership in all three of the preeminent American scientific societies. The chair then swore in the nominee, and yielded the floor to McNutt for her opening statement.
McNutt began by stressing again the importance of what the USGS does for our nation, in obtaining and preserving scientific data, especially in the natural resources that are so critical to our lives. She then began a summary of the reasons she believes that she is qualified for the job. First, she declared that she is a “good scientist,” discussing the breadth and quality of the scientific work she has done. Second, she explained that her time as the president of the American Geophysical Union had exposed her to many in the scientific community as well as preparing her to administrate effectively over a large organization. Next, she noted her familiarity with administrative procedures and strategic planning. Fourth, she recalled her time at the USGS as a young scientist, and said that she will “be right at home at the USGS.” She pointed out that many businesses fail because a leader cannot adjust to the company’s environment, but this will not be a problem because she is already familiar with the culture. Next, she attributed her ability as a “team builder” to her success at the MBARI, specifically in breaking down barriers between the different scientific disciplines. Finally, she noted that “public service is a tradition in my family.” She recalled her father’s story, having dropped out of Harvard as a freshman to enlist in the army, and fighting his way to Berlin while earning numerous decorations for his service. McNutt maintained that she was prepared and honored to take on the role of USGS Director.
Bingaman then began the questioning by asking McNutt how the USGS plans to implement the Secure Water Act, which had recently passed, regarding climate change issues. McNutt responded that she knew Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was interested in studying climate change, and that the USGS stream gauge network will be integral in undertaking those studies. Bingaman then noted that, coming from an arid state, he would like to help get adequate funding for the USGS and its water resources program. McNutt responded, “We are on the same wavelength.” Murkowski then noted that the committee had passed an act which mandated the USGS to study the water resources in Alaska, and that she would like to see it as a higher priority. She then asked what McNutt planned to do about informing the committee about the natural resources in wilderness areas. McNutt noted that she had just been hearing about this significant issue in her visits to the Hill, and that she was not yet sure the level of investment it would take for the USGS to complete such studies, but that she was “looking forward to” working on a plan to secure that information for the committee.
Mark Udall (D-CO) then spoke about the long tradition of Western USGS leaders, and said of McNutt that having “spent more nights under the stars in a years time than you did under a roof, I think we’re going to be very well served by your leadership.” He noted that McNutt plans to survey the coast, and asked her what more specifically she intends to do. McNutt responded that when she started at MBARI there was no ocean survey program. Now MBARI boasts a high resolution surveying program which is “the envy of the world.” McNutt explained that the USGS currently has limited resources when it comes to outer continental shelf (OCS) surveying, but that it is extremely important since the OCS nearly doubles the land mass of the United States. She is looking to build up an OCS surveying program at the USGS, and determining what resources are there.
James Risch (R-ID) then took the floor, starting by concurring with Udall that the ocean work McNutt had done is important. He then mentioned the frequency with which his office and his state use the geological survey maps to various ends. The maps, he proclaimed, were last updated in the 1960s. He asked McNutt if she had any plans to change that. McNutt responded that they would be revising all of the datasets the survey keeps, including Landsat, and that she believed that meant they would be re-issuing those maps as well. She then took the time to explain that the committee should not worry about her focus on the oceans, as she is a geologist and understands that despite her own research interests, the Earth is where “the rubber meets the road” for humans. She realizes the importance of the USGS terrestrial work, and stated that no one needs worry that land activities will lose any focus.
The testimony of the witnesses, in addition to a video cast of the hearing, can be found here.
Mr. Joseph H. Layton Jr.
Committee Members Present
The House Agriculture Committee Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research Subcommittee held a hearing on September 30, 2009 in order to discuss the implementation of the research title of the 2008 Farm Bill. Chairman Tim Holden (D-PA) noted that the committee has taken measures to “enhance the quality, transparency, and accountability” of these programs. Dr. Rajiv Shah, Under Secretary of Research, Education, and Economics for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), postulated to the Committee that this is the time to take the steps necessary to reinvent the research program at the USDA. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has made it clear that one of the USDA’s priorities in this administration is improving the quality of life of those Americans in rural areas, and Shah says the way to do so is through renewable energy, local and regional food systems, and nutrition. These are the areas in which research can most help us to advance.
The 2008 Farm Bill created the Office of Chief Scientist, which Shah explained will be utilized to re-focus, scale up, and tool the research efforts in USDA to make serious impacts on some of our major issues today. Additionally created with the Office of Chief Scientist is the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which reviews USDA’s research programs as is and will play a great role in defining future areas of research which will provide the greatest return on investment. Shah then went into some of the programs funded by the 2008 Farm Bill, including: the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) to “solve critical industry issues through research”; the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI); and the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, established jointly with the Department of Energy (DOE) to investigate new options for biofuel applications.
Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA) then asked Shah if he could describe the number of applications for any of the farm bill programs. Shah could not, though he did know that the number of applications in the first round was about six times greater than resources allowed, and he anticipates that the second round will have a high number of applicants as well, whenever it does occur. Dahlkemper then asked how she and her colleagues in Congress could help to support agricultural research. Shah responded that helping to get the word out about the importance of the research being done, especially regarding climate change, is the best strategy. Dahlkemper finished by noting that if climate change legislation is enacted, there would be a “huge workload” to be done to cope with all of the regulatory changes, and asked if the USDA was prepared for this. Shah responded that the have been implementing partnerships which would ideally help in that situation. Frank Kratovil (D-MD) asked more about the SCRI grants, how much money was given to how many applications? Shah responded that there was roughly $300 million in applications for $50 million in grant money. Kratovil then brought up the stimulus funding USDA did receive, and if it had been spent on anything. Shah replied that it was mostly for buildings and facilities maintenance and upgrades.
Coston began by discussing the progress the USDA has made in implementing the changes prescribed by the 2008 Farm Bill, and still needs to be done to achieve the results outline in the “CREATE-21” initiative of the APLU, to Create Research, Education, and Teaching Excellence for the 21st Century”. Next he discussed how before the end of the previous administration, the USDA’s leadership did move quickly to set the NIFA programs into action, and establish time lines and initiate programs. He mentioned that the new USDA leadership has likewise done a good job of preparing and moving forth on the missions established in the farm bill. Lastly, he noted the moves left to be made. First and foremost, NIFA should become a fully functional entity before the October 1st timeline set by the legislation, and if not, then as quickly afterward as possible.
Joseph Layton began by describing his many affiliations. He went on to describe his farms foray into grape and wine producing, an abnormality for Maryland farmers. This, he described, left him acutely aware of the need for research, education and outreach funding. Research is integral to him successfully operating his farm, and that right now not enough funding is going to towards research and development that he so critically needs. He noted that his three prime points for testimony were: the research and development title is vital to respond to the need of the farmers; the USDA has done a solid job of advancing with the initiatives laid out in the farm bill; and that further increased funding is critical to achieve the goals laid out for agricultural research and development, and that the funding needs to be designated for both basic and applied research.
Kratovil congratulated Layton on the decision and work thus far to expand their farm, and asked if any of the farm bill’s research programs were directly helpful in beginning the vineyard on his farm. Layton gave a resounding yes, explaining that when they decided to make this move, they went to the land grant institutions for help, including Virginia Tech and others. He said if farmers want to make a switch, the resources are there for you to learn from and capitalize on. Holden asked Layton what he and his colleagues were doing to support research. Layton explained that historically they would just lobby for an earmark when they needed it, but have been more proactive as of late, and they now let the land-grant universities know what they need and allow them to “run with the ball.” Also, they have been running a program in which they bring policy makers out to tour their farms and see what is really going on.
Next Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte, (R-VA), asked Coston if the land-grant institutions support the USDA’s programs. Coston replied that they have been in full support of these programs thus far. He then asked what the APLU’s position on earmarks was which Coston said was left up to the individual member institutions. Thompson then asked Coston how the results from their research are disseminated. Coston replied that they do not stop their work until “somebody’s using it—either farmers or other scientists.” Thompson then asked Layton how that research Coston discussed would apply to him and his fellow farmers. Layton said that it applies, but that it could be done better. For example, specific programs funded on a long-term basis would be more helpful than many short-term research projects.
The last questions of the day came from Representative Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), who asked a question about Coston’s research in relation to preventing food shortages due to crop disease. Coston explained what they have been developing, including some specific germ plasm, as a ready means of overcoming crop failures in case of emergency. These are stored at some seed banks. At the end of this line of questioning, Holden thanked the witnesses for their testimony, the members of the Committee for attending, and the audience. He then officially dismissed the witnesses, and adjourned the meeting.
Committee Members Present
On July 8, 2009, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a nominations hearing for Mr. Charles Bolden, the Administrator-Designate, and Ms. Lori Garver, the Deputy Administrator-Designate, for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) said during her opening remarks, “I believe the Administration has chosen well with these nominees…they both have the breadth and depth of experience needed” to move the nation forward in space exploration. Representatives Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX) and James Clyburn (D-SC) as well as Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) spoke on behalf of Bolden. Jackson Lee said he was “someone who can manage bold issues” and called him “an outstanding nominee for the 21st century.” Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) said the nominees’ “backgrounds are fantastic,” but “NASA is not what it was,” citing recent problems the agency has faced and he commented that “NASA has got to be done right.” Rockefeller asked the nominees to address his main question during their testimony: “What do you propose to do with what was supposed to be the inspiration of the nation?”
Bolden has over 34 years experience in the U.S. Marine Corps and was selected by NASA in 1980 to become an astronaut. He flew on four space missions. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical science from the U.S. Naval Academy and a master’s degree in system management from the University of Southern California. In his testimony, Bolden identified four challenges he wants to address as NASA Administrator. He wants to focus on building on our investment in the International Space Station, development of the next generation launch system, enhancing NASA’s technological leadership “to better understand the Earth environment,” and inspiring kids to become the next generation of scientists and engineers. Bolden said he believes his job will be “turning these challenges into opportunities.”
Garver is a former NASA Associate Administrator of Policy and Plans and led the Obama Presidential Transition Agency Review Team for NASA. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Colorado College and a master’s degree in science, technology, and public policy from George Washington University. In her testimony, Garver stated that “the space program is for all of us” and called human space flight a “symbol of U.S. leadership.” She also called for NASA to do more for the aeronautical industry.
Rockefeller called NASA “adrift” and “a story of the past” and asked how they would turn the agency around. Bolden said safety and efficiency “have to be at the forefront” and he would like to reinvigorate research and development at the agency. He acknowledged NASA’s aging workforce and the need to spark interest in kids to go into science and engineering and possibly work for NASA. Bolden also spoke about the opportunity to study Earth from space and the need to “reopen opportunity for American scientists” to use space for Earth observation. Garver responded to Rockefeller that “I share your concern” and efforts should be made to make NASA “relevant to Americans” again. She said they need to do a better job of explaining their work and how it is benefiting the public. She also indicated interest in exploring partnerships in academia and industry.
Hutchinson wanted to hear from the witnesses about the “unique laboratory” on the International Space Station and its importance to NASA’s work. Bolden responded that in past years they were doing “housekeeping” to get the space station ready for the kind of research they want to do and now there is a crew of six manning the station. He said they now can make the space station available for basic research. Bolden also commented that medical devices now used to save lives were developed originally for use in space and these types of devices might not have been developed otherwise. Garver cited medical advances through development in vaccines and said research done at the station “could change life for millions.”
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) stated that “NASA needs a leader” and the only person to lead is the President. He said he is confident Bolden and Garver will be able to lead the agency with direction from the President. Nelson also said, “NASA has been starved of funds with too much to do” leading to problems at the agency. Bolden emphasized in response that “together we can inspire people to invest in science and technology.”
Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) wanted to know what role White Sands Test Facility would have in the future and if there were plans to shut it down. Bolden responded that he does not foresee ending testing hazardous materials at the facility since it “can only be done there.”
Committee Members Present
On June 9, 2009, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee and its Subcommittee on Oversight held a joint hearing to investigate the changes in scientific integrity and transparency that have taken place at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since the start of the Obama administration. Three panels of witnesses gave testimony on the recent reform, starting with the newly appointed EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
The chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) opened the hearing by describing the loss of the EPA’s integrity and credibility under the previous administration, where “science took a backseat to politics… and this proud agency suffered an embarrassing string of court defeats with rulings literally mocking the agency’s arguments.” He then praised the EPA’s recent overhaul of the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), which assesses harmful chemicals found in the environment and the effects these chemicals can have on human health. Under the previous administration, the IRIS assessment of new chemicals was a complicated process that could take five or six years to complete one review. In the words of Whitehouse, there were “conflicts of interest” in the research used to make judgments on policy, and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was given “unknown secret influence” over the EPA. The new IRIS method gives the EPA ultimate power and is more streamlined with a goal of completing each chemical review in twenty three months. Jackson stressed that science is a rigorous process of peer review to reach an accurate and impartial consensus upon which policy can be made.
EPW Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) also applauded the improvements that Jackson has made in air quality, perchlorate, and children’s health issues. She condemned the previous administration’s practice of “putting the polluters at the witness table,” and thanked Jackson for her openness. Ranking Member of the Oversight Subcommittee, John Barrasso (R-WY), was not as impressed by the new administration’s oversight of the EPA. He probed Jackson about her role as EPA Administrator compared to the role of the White House Energy and Climate Czar Carol Browner, who is not confirmed by or held accountable to the Senate. He was disturbed by a New York Times article that accused Browner and Mary Nichols, Chairman of the California Air Resources Board, of having secret meetings with auto industry officials about vehicle fuel economy. He suggested that the EPA was not even considered in these meetings, when it should be the Senate approved EPA Administrator making the decisions on emission standards. Jackson responded that the accusation of secrecy was a misunderstanding, and while she may not have been at the meetings, high ranking members of her staff were included in these talks.
As part of the EPA reform, Jackson emphasized the necessity to keep science independent from politics. This issue of politics interfering with science was a primary concern, resurfacing multiple times during the hearing. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) noted a survey of EPA scientists by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2008. This survey found that 783 scientists thought EPA policies prohibited them from discussing their findings with the media or publishing their research in peer reviewed journals. Later, Dr. Francesca Grifo, a witness on the third panel from the Union of Concerned Scientists, noted the same survey that found 889 scientists (60%) felt politics interfered with science. Grifo stated that it is impossible for science and politics to remain completely separate, but scientists should be able to express their opinions as private citizens and not representatives of the agencies they work for. This would facilitate greater transparency of the decisions the EPA makes. She also called for a stronger whistleblower law to protect scientists, declaring her support for the bill introduced by Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).
A related issue is the problem of credibility of environmental versus industry research. While EPW Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) confirmed with Dr. John Stephenson that the GAO did not distinguish between environmental and industry scientists, Barasso discussed with Dr. Kenneth Green the overall trend in politics of treating some scientists as biased depending on where they receive funding. Green said that it is a general belief that industry science is tainted and cautioned the committee that good science takes time for deliberation and peer review. Chairman Whitehouse also mentioned tainted science that stems from scientists adjusting their data to get a profit, citing the American Tobacco Institute and the American Lead Institute as two examples. Whitehouse called for industry to rid itself of these anti-science practices. Dr. Lynn Goldman also referred to these troubles, mentioning a situation where a consulting firm was hired to oppose the EPA’s research of a pesticide without doing any of their own research.
Several committee members inquired how far the reformation of the EPA would go, introducing issues they wanted the new administration of the EPA to address. First, Whitehouse wanted to ensure that the EPA would not forget the funding cuts that science and the EPA took in the last eight years. Jackson replied that this will be a priority for the Inspector General once the position is filled. Udall focused on ways to increase transparency by querying if the Data Access Act of 1998 would be addressed to help the flow of data between industry and government. Currently, industry has access to all of the data collected by agencies, but the agencies are not able to acquire industry research. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) wanted to make sure the Clean Water Act would be taken into account in the permits issued by the EPA for mountaintop removal coal mining. He also noted that improvements at the EPA were already positively affecting Maryland. Jackson responded that the EPA will review each project’s effect on water quality and work towards better transparency on this issue. Lastly, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) noted Superfund cleanup and indicated he hoped that this would continue as an important project of the EPA.
Inhofe questioned Jackson about the way the EPA handles advances in science that change interpretations, referencing scientists who believed anthropogenic greenhouse gases were causing global warming in the 1990’s but have since switched their viewpoints. Jackson replied by first emphasizing that the majority of scientists in the field believe that anthropogenic greenhouse gases are the cause of global warming. She confirmed that the EPA keeps an open mind in regard to new research. Inhofe also questioned the EPA’s support of the Waxman-Markey bill, presenting a letter signed by most of the Senate Republicans. The letter asked the EPA to conduct a new assessment of the bill, taking into account a slower, more reasonable time estimate for the expansion of nuclear energy and the implementation of the carbon capture and sequestration process. Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) also pushed the letter, noting, “Modeling is only as good as its assumptions.”
On the second witness panel, Dr. Stephenson praised the new IRIS, but called for more transparency about the role the OMB would play. He also remained skeptical of its goal to complete chemical reviews in twenty three months. When Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE) asked what possible delays would keep the EPA from meeting their target timeline, Stephenson recommended that the EPA employs early planning, eliminate redundancy in the IRIS process, and create a more streamlined process to keep on target. He commented that they would have to wait and see how well the EPA does in the next year.
Testimonies from the witnesses and a video archive of the entire hearing can be found here.
Committee Members Present
On May 21, 2009, the Senate Appropriations Committee Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee held a historic hearing to discuss the fiscal year 2010 (FY10) budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Discussion of the budget did not make the hearing historic, however. What did make the hearing monumental was the live feed and participation from astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis orbiting Earth. They were the first ever congressional hearing witnesses from space. The Atlantis crew had just completed intricate repairs to the Hubble space telescope, and were able to share how they overcame numerous obstacles in their repairs to allow several more years of deep space research with the telescope.
The FY10 budget received both praise and disappointment. On the positive side for NASA, the FY10 overall NASA budget of $18.7 billion is nearly $1 billion greater than the 2009 omnibus level. However, of concern to the subcommittee members is the proposed flatlining of future NASA budgets. $4.5 billion of the budget is designated for science projects, an amount considered a “robust commitment” by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). The science budget addresses earth science research topics such as support of satellite missions that will provide valuable remote sensing in many areas of climate change science. Another bi-partisan concern from the subcommittee was the allotment of $575 million for aeronautics research conducted by the agency. Mikulski expressed disappointment in this amount, noting aeronautics is a cornerstone of the NASA mission, received $1.5 billion in 1998, and Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) urged that this part of the NASA budget be reconsidered.
Mikulski also expressed disappointment with recent NASA trends of being over budget on many projects, noting that in 2006, 83 percent of NASA projects were over budget. Voinovich also pressed Mr. Chris Scolese on the issue. Scolese provided some reasons as to why budgets are exceeded, most notably that NASA often times “learns as it goes” in a project because of its research mission. Scolese also noted that NASA changes specification mid-project that run up costs, and that contractors should not be blamed for the trend in budget overruns.
Scolese informed the subcommittee of the near-term plans for the space shuttle program. He indicated that NASA plans to launch 8 more missions to the International Space Station (ISS) prior to the end of 2010. Mikulski asked Scolese if there are any plans of extending the shuttle program beyond 2010, to which Scolese responded that there is currently no end date to the program and that NASA is “constantly evaluating the situation.” This issue is critical for ISS operations, as the Russian Soyuz spacecraft will need to be used for transportation between Earth and the station when the shuttle program is mothballed. One seat on the Soyuz for a U.S. astronaut currently costs $47 million per mission, an amount Scolese considered “reasonable” while the Orion Project is still in the development phase.
Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) expressed a partisan tone in his remarks about the fact that the Obama Administration, which was touted to “hit the ground running”, is just now rolling out the FY10 budget for NASA. Shelby also criticized the budget for “short changing” the manned space program, even though the FY10 budget for this item was $456 million higher than the FY09 allotment. Shelby pointed out that “the Hubble program would still be on the ground if it weren’t for manned space flights,” and because of this he proposed a “do-over” in the budget for allocations of manned space flights.
Because of the pending termination of the space shuttle program, Mikulski expressed her concern for maintaining the dedicated and talented workforce that made the shuttle program work. Scolese informed Mikulski that NASA is taking steps to retain its workforce, using incentives and bonuses to keep NASA’s talent in the agency, as well as retraining scientists, engineers, and technicians for other future NASA projects.
Scolese also shared that NASA is spending $126 million in support of education programs and opportunities. Though this amount, as pointed out by Mikulski, was $40 million below FY09 levels it will cover the entire education spectrum, from K-12 programs and summer education programs for teachers to supporting graduate student research at the university level.
A video archive of the conversation the Atlantis crew had with the subcommittee can be found here.
Committee Members Present
In an effort to gain insight and recommendations in support of a bill designed to restructure the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held the hearing “An Independent FEMA” on May 14, 2009 with a diverse panel of expert witnesses involved in various areas of emergency planning and preparedness. The bill, titled “FEMA Independence Act of 2009” (H.R. 1174), was introduced by Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) to designate FEMA as a cabinet-level independent agency in the executive branch. Currently, FEMA is within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Oberstar began the hearing summarizing the evolution of FEMA in the past two decades, stating that after responding to several disasters in the 1990s “FEMA was considered a model government agency,” referring in particular to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1994 Northridge, CA earthquake, and the 1993 Midwest floods. However, following the incorporation of FEMA into the DHS after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the effectiveness of the agency has come into question, especially following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Oberstar questioned priorities in the budget of DHS, noting that over the past six years 10 times more money has been spent on terrorism preparedness ($15 billion) than disaster preparedness ($1.5 billion).
The proposed FEMA restructuring has bipartisan support. Ranking Member Mario Diaz-Ballart stated that “this [H.R. 1174] is one of the most important pieces of legislation we’ll do this year” in his brief opening comments. To further demonstrate the broad support in making FEMA an independent agency, a similar bill in the Senate (S. 412) was introduced by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) in February 2009.
The witness panel essentially acted as a unified voice in support of withdrawing FEMA from the umbrella of DHS. Lieutenant General Russel Honoré was quite candid on his position of FEMA’s current status with DHS in his opening remarks. Honoré brought a unique perspective to the hearing, as he led Joint Task Force Katrina, the military relief effort following the Hurricane Katrina disaster. In his opening remarks, Honoré stated, “Admiring the movement of FEMA to DHS is like admiring your marksmanship when you shoot your foot,” and that “having FEMA imbedded within DHS is broke, the two are incongruent.” He noted the importance of reforming expenditures within FEMA, and urged that if FEMA cannot be separated from DHS in the current congressional session the budget for FEMA should at least be separated from the overall DHS budget. Honoré also commented on the culture of state responsibility in disaster preparedness. He noted that state governors seldom like to be told what to do by the federal government until disaster strikes, then “the governors want FEMA to do the cleanup.” However, he shared that state responsibility in disaster preparedness is paramount for effective response and rebuilding activities, regardless of the type of disaster. Honoré indicated that for every dollar spent for emergency preparedness saves nine dollars in recovery efforts.
Mr. Larry Larson provided more lightning rod criticism of the current FEMA arrangement within DHS. Larson explained that FEMA was effective as an independent agency because it did not have to go through layers of bureaucracy for every decision. He noted that timeliness in decisions is critically important when disasters strike suddenly, such as when the Lake Pontchartrain levees failed during Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Larry Gispert, a seasoned veteran of numerous hurricane disasters, told the committee that the Association of State Floodplain Managers supports an independent FEMA, and echoed comments that FEMA must be granted the authority to make final decisions in disaster response as soon as possible.
Dr. Mitchell Moss keyed in on some longer term mission strategies FEMA must improve on, most notably with being part of the recovery process in communities after disasters. Moss also added that no matter how FEMA is restructured, it must be able to coordinate better with local agencies where the disaster strikes, because typically, the local agencies are the first responders. Larson also noted the “cultural” shift FEMA has undergone since it became a part of DHS, indicating FEMA has become more “closed and secretive” when it should be “the exact opposite” for state and local governments and the general public to be aware of agency protocol.
Mr. Jerome Hauer opened his remarks by bluntly stating, “FEMA needs fixing. We are at a point in time where we can never again let Americans die in hospitals waiting for help.” Hauer urged the need to “get back to basics” in training for disasters and emergency response. He does not think the U.S. government needs two agencies responding to terrorism, indicating the overlap of missions between FEMA and other arms of DHS. Hauer added some politically charged comments in his testimony, as he suggested that the new Obama-appointed director of FEMA “needs to get rid of political hacks left behind from the last administration.”
Oberstar quizzed the panel in the open-question portion in the hearing regarding who is first in line in terms of preparedness and responsibility for disasters, to which both Larson and Gispert responded that local officials hold the most responsibility. Gispert added, “We’re there when CNN goes home. We’re there when FEMA goes home. We do what we can until our capabilities are exceeded.” Oberstar added that local responsibility is what he heard in 1987 when he began working on emergency management issues in Congress.
A lesson in personal responsibility was the theme of discussion between Diaz-Ballart and the panel, as the Diaz-Ballart stated, “We can’t let locals and states off the hook by thinking the federal government will cover everything.” The panel concurred with Diaz-Ballart, as Larson stated, “State and local governments have the biggest roles in preventing disasters.” He noted that land use management, a state by state governed issue, is critical in the mitigation of floods. Following Larson’s comments, Gispert quickly added a brief and emphatic statement: “personal responsibility.”
A link to the main page for the hearing can be found by clicking here.
Committee Members Present
On March 12, 2009, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources conducted a hearing to consider the nomination of David Hayes as the Deputy Secretary of the Interior. Seven committee members pressed Hayes on a number of issues, including several controversial topics affecting the Western states that many of the committee members represent.
Hayes, who grew up just outside of Rochester, New York, attributed his lifelong passion for nature and the outdoors to his childhood summers spent at his family’s cabin on Conesus Lake in western New York. Hayes received his bachelor degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1975 and his Juris Doctor from Stanford University in 1978. He has held a variety of positions focused on environmental, natural resources, and energy issues in his law career of over 30 years. If nominated, this will be Hayes’ second stint as Interior Deputy Secretary. He first served from 1999 to 2001 under the Clinton administration. Following his service in the Department of the Interior (DOI), Hayes worked as a lobbyist from 2001 to 2006 along with serving as a senior fellow with the World Wildlife Fund and the Progressive Policy Institute. Since 2007, Hayes has served has a consulting professor at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford.
In his opening statement, Hayes first expressed his philosophy on approaching critical issues, telling the committee “I firmly believe in the collaborative process that needs to be behind every major resource decision.” Hayes shared with the committee his outlook on the most pressing DOI issues and his plans to address them. Hayes noted that renewable energy potential on public lands is a high priority for DOI. He also identified the need to better understand potential climate change impacts to public lands, and how these areas could actually be beneficial in combating climate change because much of the forests, grasslands, and wetlands in the public domain act as a carbon sink. Finally, Hayes indicated that investment in the nation’s treasured landscapes and working closer with the Native American community were his other goals if confirmed as Deputy Secretary.
In the open question segment of the hearing, Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) grilled Hayes over recent actions taken by newly appointed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar involving oil leases on public lands in Utah. She pressed Hayes as to what DOI will do to boost domestic energy production on pubic lands, particularly in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Although not involved with the leasing issue in Utah, Hayes informed the committee that in the past he had opposed opening up public lands in ANWR for drilling, but now looks forward to working with the committee and learning about new oil extraction technologies that could potentially be more sensitive to the wilderness landscape and wildlife in ANWR. Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) also voiced his frustration with the Salazar ruling on the Utah oil leases, indicating that everything was properly done to satisfy the requirements for the leases. He apologized to Hayes for what he called “ranting,” but wanted to make sure the nominee was aware of what he felt happened in the ruling.
The most vociferous part of the hearing involved questions from Senator John McCain (R-AZ) about Hayes’ past lobbying positions. McCain pointedly asked Hayes if his appointment is a violation of the Obama administration’s recently announced executive order which prohibits individuals who have worked as lobbyists within the past 2 years from a cabinet level appointment. Hayes told the senator that he has not been a lobbyist since 2006 and by that, he is not violating the executive order. McCain again went on the offensive, bringing up statements Hayes made in an article while working as a fellow with the Progressive Policy Institute. McCain accused Hayes of unfair portrayal of the conservative view of natural resources in the western U.S. by quoting part of Hayes’ article, “Like Ronald Reagan before him, President Bush has embraced the Western stereotype to the point of adopting some of his affectations, the boots, brush-clearing and get-the-government-off-our-backs bravado.” McCain called the remarks about Reagan “highly offensive.” Hayes indicated that he regrets those comments as perhaps being “overly florid,” but he felt his perception on the Bush administration’s view of the West was justified. Before McCain departed the hearing, he informed the committee and Hayes that he had serious doubts if he could vote for Hayes’ appointment.
Several other topics were discussed in a more positive tone between committee members and Hayes. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) asked Hayes about his views on oil shale and coal development on public lands, as well as his view on wilderness. Hayes indicated that both he and Secretary Salazar are open-minded about oil shale and coal, but that DOI needs to approach these areas responsibly. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) brought up the topic of the Endangered Species Act with Hayes, noting problems in the past involving the DOI. He used the example of the angst many Wyoming residents had with the re-introduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park in 1995, stating that the DOI at the time “considered the people of Wyoming a petri dish.” He asked Hayes directly if he would commit to looking into the gray wolf matter, and Hayes responded, “I will,” and indicated his goal of removing the gray wolf from the endangered species list.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) questioned Hayes on the Minerals Management Service (MMS) and how Hayes will determine the right balance of using public lands for renewable energy without harming the lands. Hayes recognized that there has “clearly been inappropriate activities” within MMS, and that the office needs to become more transparent, informing the committee of Secretary Salazar’s call for a special ethical review of MMS from “top to bottom.” Hayes indicated that in regards to renewable energies on public lands, there needs to be consideration for environmental and habitat impacts on public lands, and suggested opportunities such as land trades as a way to mitigate harmful impacts to public lands.
Links to the confirmation hearing video archive can be found here.
Dr. John Holdren received his bachelor and masters degrees in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a doctorate from Stanford University. He is a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and faculty member and Director of the Science, Technology and Public Policy program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Holdren is an energy expert, who has recently focused his efforts on the causes and consequences of climate change in relation to energy resources. If appointed to this new role, Holdren will become a key science advisor to the President and will serve as one of the three co-chairs on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).
In his opening statements, Holdren acknowledged that there are “major challenges facing the nation at the intersection of science and policy.” Included in this challenges, he pointed out the need for more space research and development, translation of science and technology research into widespread societal benefits, affordable energy plans that are conscious of climate change, and innovations that help address security threats in increasingly complex world conflicts. He pledged to work on both policy for science and science for policy.
Dr. Jane Lubchenco received her bachelors degree in biology from Colorado College, and masters degree from the University of Washington and doctorate from Harvard University in marine ecology. Lubchenco is a professor of marine biology and zoology at Oregon State University, actively involved in engaging scientists in public policy, and President of the International Council for Science. Her focuses are climate change, ecosystem interaction, and sustainability science. If appointed, Lubchenco will work under the Secretary of Commerce to decide the focus and policies of NOAA.
In her opening statements, Lubchenco drew on her career of researching systemic connections. She cited her research on ecosystem change and how society adapts, including her dedication to land, ocean, air, and human interactions. The key projects Lubchenco wants NOAA to focus on are: climate forecasting, recovery of the nation’s bays, beaches, and rivers, and research into the regional effects of climate change in order to prepare local communities. Lubchenco believes a National Climate Service (NCS) that NOAA is planning based on the National Weather Service model, will help local communities prepare for the regional to local effects of climate change.
The committee was receptive to the witnesses’ ideas. Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) did ask if Lubchenco and Holdren would help all members of the committee regardless of party to which both replied in the affirmative without hesitation. Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) wanted to know how the witnesses planned to uphold scientific integrity in policy decisions. Lubchenco replied that the science is only one part of policy, but that she would work to ensure that the relevant science is available and understandable in order to help make informed policy decisions. Holdren highlighted OSTP’s responsibility, as outlined in the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 2272), to provide the best information for decision-making by ensuring open communication between scientists and the government. In responding to how to reconcile differing scientific opinion, Holdren advocated that “policymakers should bet with the odds,” saying that all science is contingent on new data but in making policy legislators should follow the majority opinion on scientific understanding. The rest of the questioning served mainly to confirm their positions on regional and federal issues.
The major issues covered were space policy and NASA, weather forecasting and mitigation, and climate change. Hutchinson wanted to know if NASA and space would be a priority, including a possible revival of the National Space Council. To Hutchinson and Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) pleasure, Holdren confirmed that OSTP is looking at the best way to resurrect the Space Council. Hutchinson then moved onto her second concern: mitigation and modification of weather.
Hutchinson has been trying to get mitigation legislation passed so NOAA or OSTP can research whether there is something humans are doing or could do to modify the weather. Holdren and Lubchenco agreed that it is a project the two agencies can collaborate on with increased funding. Holdren also brought up the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (Public Law: 101-606) as a useful framework for interagency cooperation on climate change, but says it needs to be updated. Nelson was skeptical about changing the weather, so focused instead on the arguably simpler job of tracking it. Nelson pledged to help Lubchenco negotiate with the Department of Defense to gain better access to the satellites needed for weather forecasting. Mel Martinez (R-FL) also encouraged research and funding to improve long and short-term forecasting.
Many senators had questions about NOAA’s proposed National Climate Service (NCS) and climate change. NOAA has already studied the feasibility of the NCS. It is just a matter of organizing and defining the service. The NCS will work in conjunction with other science agencies in tackling the most prominent climate change issues. Holdren confirmed for Olympia Snowe (R-ME) the President’s recommendation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. He warned that it will be a “long slog” to get the U.S. and world onboard, but promised that many innovations and jobs will come from the effort.
David Vitter (R-LA) needed to clarify Holdren’s climate change predictions. He was concerned about Holdren’s comments regarding climate change made decades ago, one dating back to 1973. Vitter repeatedly asked Holdren if he maintained his 1986 claim that climate change would kill 1 billion people by 2020. Holdren did not back down, contending that it was unlikely but could happen. Another concern of Vitter was Holdren’s prediction that sea level will rise by up to 13 feet by the end of the century, contrary to the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) prediction of 25 inches. Holdren defended his statement saying that, as noted in their report, the IPCC did not consider mechanisms leading to rapid ice sheet melting. Though he originally found rapid ice sheet melting could lead to a 13 feet sea level rise, Holdren has now revised his statement to follow the popular 7 feet prediction.
Mark Begich (D-AK), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) were concerned with regional issues. However Cantwell did ask how NOAA would ensure it’s recommendations were heard, especially in the case of offshore drilling. Nelson also wanted to know how the agencies planned to coordinate with each other on overlapping responsibilities. Lubchenco said NOAA would utilize holistic planning and work through the Secretary and councils to make sure NOAA’s findings are taking into account. Holdren acknowledged the role of OSTP in facilitating communication between agencies working on similar projects in order to improve efficiency and quality of data.
Rockefeller closed by thanking both witnesses. He knew they would be giving up good lives and good positions in order to serve the government and called their service “noble.” In an effort by Rockefeller “to get [Holdren and Lubchenco] on the job as soon as possible,” the confirmations bypassed the full committee vote and instead will move directly to a vote of unanimous consent on the Senate floor.
Sources: Hearing testimony.
Contributed by Corina Cerovski-Darriau, Government Affairs Staff; Clint Carney, 2009 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, Rachel Potter, 2009 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern, Stephanie Praus, 2009 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern, Joey Fiore, 2009 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on July 29, 2010