Summary of Hearings on Environmental Policy

( 7/13/12 )

  • July 12, 2012: Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Hearing on Remediation of Federal Legacy Wells in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska
  • June 19, 2012: Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Hearing on “Review of Recent Environmental Protection Agency Air Standards for Hydraulically Fractured Natural Gas Wells and Oil and Natural Gas Storage”
  • March 7, 2012: House Committee on Natural Resources Oversight Hearing on “The Council on Environmental Quality’s Fiscal Year 2013 Funding Request and the Effects on NEPA, National Ocean Policy and Other Federal Environmental Policy Initiatives”
  • February 29, 2012: House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Hearing to discuss the President's Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Request for the Environmental Protection Agency
  • November 17, 2011: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Hearing on “Fostering Quality Science in the EPA: The Need for Common Sense Reform”
  • November 4, 2011: House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Oversight Hearing on "Jobs at Risk: Waste and Mismanagement by the Obama Administration in Rewriting the Stream Buffer Zone Rule"
  • July 8, 2011: House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Hearing on "H.R. 1505 and H.R. 587"
  • June 28, 2011: Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife Hearing on the "Status of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment"
  • June 24, 2011: House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs Hearing on "Why We Should Care About Bats: Devastating Impact White-Nose Syndrome is Having on One of Nature's Best Pest Controllers"
  • March 2, 2011: Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Hearing on "Environmental Protection Agency Fiscal Year 2012 Budget"
  • February 9, 2011: House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power Hearing on "H.R. ___: the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011"
  • January 26, 2011: Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Hearing on the National Oil Spill Commission Report
  • January 26, 2011: House Committee on Natural Resources Hearing on the National Oil Spill Commission Report

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Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Hearing on Remediation of Federal Legacy Wells in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska
July 12, 2012


Witnesses:
Bud Cribley
Alaska State Director, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Interior
Cathy Foerster
Chair, Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission
Charisse Millett
Alaska House of Representatives

Committee Members Present:
Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chairman
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ranking Member
Joe Manchin (D-WV)

On July 12, 2012 the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing to discuss the remediation of federal legacy wells within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA). Between 1944 and 1982 the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and U.S. Navy were commissioned by the federal government to drill 136 oil and natural gas exploratory wells on Alaska lands. Since that time the wells have been abandoned and few have been properly capped. Many citizens of Alaska are concerned that the uncapped legacy wells could pose a hazard to wildlife, the environment, and human safety.

Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) opened the hearing with a brief history of federal oil and natural gas exploration in Alaska. He noted that President Warren Harding originally established the NPRA as a naval petroleum reserve in 1923 for defense purposes until 1976 when jurisdiction over the 136 legacy wells and boreholes was transferred to the Department of the Interior (DOI). Presently, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reports that 41 legacy wells remain within the NPRA and are subjected to constant monitoring. Bingaman commented that the BLM has done significant work to manage the wells subject to coastal erosion, however acquiring the resources necessary to completely remediate all well sites has been a challenge due to fiscal constraints. He added that $16 million has been made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5) for well remediation of the Drew Point Well Site in the NPRA.

In her opening statement, Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) commented on the importance of well remediation to the state of Alaska and the need to encourage the federal government to behave as a “responsible operator.” Senator Murkowski recited a statement by Charlotte Brower, Mayor of Alaska’s North Slope Borough (NSB), who said the NSB and BLM should act as a “steward of the land” and prioritize remediation of the impacts of oil and gas exploration. The mayor said the BLM is committed to capping wells but is operating under an unfunded mandate. Murkowski commented that only 16 of the 136 drilled wells in the NPRA were properly capped, seven of which were fixed by the NSB, the remaining are in various conditions of non-compliance with state environmental standards, and three wells are “missing.” Murkowski emphasized how “dire the situation is in the NPRA” and concluded that there is a need to shed light on the “hypocrisy” of the federal government’s failure to meet the same environmental standards private companies are required to operate under.   

Bud Cribley, Alaska State Director for the Bureau of Land Management, testified that the BLM actively monitors well conditions at 41 sites and has plugged and remediated 18 wells. He described the NPRA as a 23 million acre, roadless area located 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle that exists in a “sensitive ecological balance” and holds significant potential for oil and gas recovery. Cribley said the BLM completed an inventory report in 2004, which identified a number of legacy wells that presented a potential risk to human health, safety and the environment, and identified many wells that exhibited no significant threat. The 2004 report, Alaska Legacy Wells Summary Report: National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, led to the capping of several wells near Umiat, Alaska at a relatively low cost. Cribley described BLM monitoring and remediation efforts of the JW Dalton, Atigaru, Drew Point, and East Teshekpuk well sites that were subject to severe coastal erosion from winter storms. He informed the committee that the BLM plans to complete an updated Legacy Well Summary Report and a Strategic Plan by the end of 2012, which will prioritize remediation of 13 well sites over the next three years. He concluded that the BLM is collaborating extensively with state authority, tribal governments, and the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC) to determine the future course of action for well remediation. 

In her testimony, Alaska Representative Charisse Millett (R-Anchorage) emphasized that well remediation has become a “70-year-old problem.” She mentioned her sponsorship of House Joint Resolution 29 (HJR 29) urging the BLM to plug legacy wells properly, which passed unanimously during an Alaska legislative session. Millett stated that many wells are filled with contaminants, two are known to leak natural gas into the atmosphere, three are missing, one is located under a landslide, and two are at the bottom of lakes. She said the wells threaten wildlife, human safety, and the pristine Arctic environment. Millet told the committee that the federal government has received about $9.4 billion from lease sales in the NPRA and the outer continental shelf of Alaska, and “not one penny has been used to plug...legacy wells in NPRA.” Millet said the fines would exceed $8 billion if the state government could fine the federal government for non-compliance, as is done with private industry. Representative Millet provided potential, alternative solutions for well remediation. She said the federal government could contribute a portion of offshore Alaska and NPRA lease sales toward cleaning up the legacy wells, or the federal lands could be handed over to the state of Alaska.

Cathy Foerster, Chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission-Anchorage, told the committee that the AOGCC expects the federal government to clean up the legacy wells and comply with Alaska environmental standards. She said the DOI has not provided the AOGCC with accurate downhole data for 75 of the 136 wells or surface data for 81 wells. Many of the legacy wells are surrounded by debris and metal, release chemicals that could significantly contaminate the surrounding tundra and atmosphere, and 17 continue to hold diesel fuel and could blowout. The condition of the wells should be considered “a crime against the environment,” said Foerster. There are no documented BLM standards for proper plugging and abandonment of wells, contrary to the specific guidelines followed by agencies such as the National Park Service or the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). Foerster explained that the BLM does have a one-year time frame for plugging wells, which the organization has not complied with in the NPRA. She concluded that it is “long past time to take responsibility for and clean up these 120 messes.”

Chairman Bingaman began the discussion period by asking Bud Cribley to describe the availability of well and borehole data. Cribley responded that the BLM has collaborated closely with the AOGCC and provided them with all available data, however there are not accurate, historical records for many of the wells. Bingaman asked the panel why there is disagreement between the AOGCC claim that 16 wells have been plugged and the BLM who claims 19 wells have been plugged. Cathy Foerster said this is because only 16 of the plugged wells comply with Alaskan regulations. Bingaman concluded that this state issue “cries out for an earmark.”

Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski asked the panel continued Bingaman’s questioning of data access and asked if the AOGCC has the data they need. Foerster said that a lack of data leads her to question the BLM’s claim that the wells without reliable data will not pose environmental or health risks. Murkoswki then asked if there had been discussion between Alaska and the BLM about the alternative recommendations Representative Millet outlined. Millet claimed the BLM was not interested in her suggestions to use revenues from lease sales for well remediation. Cribley disagreed and said the BLM is open to looking at all the possible options. He described the BLM Strategic Plan to clean up 13 wells over the next three funding cycles and that the plan tries to remain realistic within the current budget environment.

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) questioned why the federal government should be treated differently than private operators in regards to environmental and safety regulations. Foerster reiterated that the current situation would not exist if a private company had drilled the wells because the state government and federal agencies hold private industry accountable. She added that the state has asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for help, however an investigator within the Environmental Crime Division of the agency informed her that the statute of limitations had expired. Senator Manchin asked the panel to explain how money for federal oil and gas exploration flows between the federal and state government. Cribley informed Manchin that the state receives 50 percent of the $250 million that has been generated over the last ten years from NPRA bonus bids. The BLM therefore brought in $125 million and spent $86 million of the revenue on legacy well remediation. 

In a second round of questioning, Senator Murkowski inquired about the price discrepancy in remediation efforts, stating that the average cost of BLM well remediation has been $2 million and the average cost for NSB well clean up is $700,000. Millet added saying the BLM spent $86 million to remediate 19 wells, whereas the NSB fixed seven wells at $300,000 for each well. Cribley attributed the discrepancy to the type of wells the BLM is remediating. He said the NSB plugged wells within driving distance, whereas the BLM plugged wells in isolated areas that could only be operated on during winter months. This difference made the work for the BLM more challenging and costly. Murkowski asked Cribley to describe how the BLM prioritizes which wells to fix. Cribley replied that the BLM first considers the potential hazards to environmental and health human, and then looks at wells nearby the first site to reduce overhead costs. Foerster added that remediating wells within a close proximity is a strategic way to reduce costs associated with the mobilization and demobilization of equipment. Murkowski concluded that it should not take an act of Congress to have the DOI “step up to their responsibility” and the federal government should develop a “game plan” for future legacy well remediation efforts in the NPRA.

Witness testimonies and an archived webcast of the hearing can be found on the Committee’s web site

-NEH

Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Hearing on "Review of Recent Environmental Protection Agency Air Standards for Hydraulically Fractured Natural Gas Wells and Oil and Natural Gas Storage"
June 19, 2012

Witnesses:
Panel 1
Gina McCarthy
Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Panel 2
Fred Krupp
President, Environmental Defense Fund
John Corra
Director, Wyoming Department of Environment Quality
Tisha Schuller
President and CEO, Colorado Oil & Gas Association
Darren Smith
Environmental Manager, Devon Energy Corporation
William Allison
Director, Air Pollution Control Division, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Subcommittee Members Present:
Thomas Carper (D-DE), Chair
John Barrasso (R-WY), Ranking Member
Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Mike Johanns (R-NE)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)

Full Committee Members Present:
James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Tom Udall (D-NM)

On June 19, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works’ Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety held a hearing to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) air standards for hydraulically fractured natural gas wells and oil and natural gas storage. These rules would be the first federal air standards issued for hydraulically fractured natural gas wells. It would federally regulate other sources of pollution in the oil and gas industry. The EPA finalized requirements for the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) in April 2012 and they will be implemented in 2015. The new source performance standards are meant to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and sulfur dioxide from oil and gas operations. The hydraulic fracturing process and its associated equipment have been criticized for emitting significant amounts of VOCs and methane through leaks. The rules require new hydraulically fractured gas wells to use green completion technologies which limit emissions and produce byproducts of methane and other hydrocarbons for producers to sell.

Chairman Thomas Carper (D-DE) gave his opening statement discussing the “boom” in natural gas and how hydraulic fracturing has helped in the growth. Hydraulic fracturing is estimated to be used in “11,400 new fractured wells each year.” Carper said that without responsible use, hydraulic fracturing can release methane and other pollutants that form ozone and can cause cancer. Carper said that methane’s global-warming potential is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Colorado and Wyoming were the only two states requiring the capture of these emissions before the release of the EPA regulations. Carper said the regulations are a “win-win solution” for industry and environment. He said this will be achieved by reduced emissions completions or green completions. Carper noted the EPA has provided a “reasonable schedule” for green completions, allowing producers until 2015 to fully comply. He closed by saying shale gas formations have “enormous potential” but must be “utilized responsibly.”

Ranking Member Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) gave his opening statement by noting the White House says natural gas is a “viable alternative” to coal and continued by saying the “rhetoric […] does not match the actions.” He cited an article from Bloomberg where Dave McCurdy, president of the American Gas Association, and Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, pointed out that a “dozen federal agencies were considering various rules or policies that could deal drilling a setback.” Barrasso brought up the Utility Maximum Achievable Controllable Technology (MACT) rule, saying it makes it “nearly impossible” to build new coal-fired power plants. He discussed the Sierra Club and their “Beyond Natural Gas” campaign. He quoted the director of the club who said, “we’re going to be preventing new gas plants from being built wherever we can.”

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) began his statement by re-iterating the Utility MACT rule, which he said would “essentially do away with coal in America.” He quoted witness Fred Krupp, who said, “Given the dysfunction in DC, a state by state approach would be more effective.” Inhofe said he agrees with the statement. He pointed out that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said there was no case of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing. He closed by saying that America cannot run “without fossil fuels.”

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) began his opening statement by replying to Inhofe’s and Barrasso’s comments. He said the Obama administration has been “sensitive” to energy issues. Cardin continued by saying pollution “knows no state boundary.” He said this is a “national problem” and needs “national solutions.” He further noted that “if we get this [clean air regulations] done right, we can expand our natural gas collections in this country in a way that’s more cost-effective and also will reduce pollutants.”

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) gave a brief opening statement saying how “natural gas has great potential.” He said that the industry would need to “minimize” environmental impact “to maximize its potential.”

Gina McCarthy then gave her testimony by saying how the standards would not slow natural gas production and would yield cost savings. McCarthy said in the past year net imports of oil have decreased by 10 percent. She said the administration is “committed to the development” of important domestic resources and that this occurs “safely and responsibly.” McCarthy said a reduction between 190,000 and 290,000 tons of VOCs is expected with the new rules each year. As a result of the standards, reduction of air toxic emissions is estimated to be 12,000 to 20,000 tons each year and reduction of methane emissions is estimated to be 1 to 1.7 million tons per year. She said VOCs emissions can be controlled through flaring or green completions until January 2015, when green completions will become required. This gives industry a transition time. Green completions are already implemented at about half of the hydraulically fractured domestic natural gas wells. McCarthy pointed out how the rules were “aligned with existing programs” in states.

Carper began the questions asking what changes had been made from the original proposal. McCarthy said they “increase[d] compliance flexibility.” She mentioned the “phasing process” of green completions. She said they added a subcategory for areas in the U.S. where geologic formations do not allow green completions to be cost-effective and removed some “downstream transmission areas” requirements where VOC content is lower. Carper then asked about the potential for over-estimates on emissions from wells. McCarthy said the EPA data is “reasonable,” with four case studies and 1000 wells used in an EPA assessment.

Barrasso asked McCarthy about the Utility MACT rule and what would happen to coal communities. She replied that coal has a “lack of competiveness against natural gas” and it is not only the rules, but a “market issue.” Barrasso then asked how to “tap the gas” if EPA continues with the proposal to “create more non-attainment areas.” McCarthy said coal is a large portion of the energy supply and will remain at the same level.

Inhofe asked if the administration thinks natural gas is a long term part of our domestic energy supply or only “a bridge.” McCarthy cited a change in the energy supply and how natural gas is becoming the “fuel of choice that’s driven by the market.” Cardin asked if the EPA evaluated the cost-benefits of the regulations; the benefits in regards to communities and the costs of meeting compliance. McCarthy said they had and discussed the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) benefits to public health.

Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) explained how Nebraska was not included in the original development of the EPA standards until the very end and was then told to comply in six to eight months. He said it is “not humanly possible to comply.” He asked why this is a reasonable approach by the EPA. McCarthy clarified the situation with Nebraska, noting the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) replacing the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR). She said the “program” started with the CAIR, which began equipment installation.

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) asked why companies are voluntarily doing the green completions program before the compliance date. McCarthy noted the cost savings and the “Natural Gas STAR” program. This EPA program promotes discussion between industry members to implement emission reduction technology at their sites.

The second panel began with testimony from Fred Krupp. He began by noting his service on the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Natural Gas Subcommittee. This subcommittee recommended ways to “address the safety and environmental performance” of hydraulic fracturing. The two “central considerations” were the fast expansion of shale gas in U.S. energy and public health and environmental concerns due to this growth. Krupp said that clean air policies “must reduce pollution, protect people, the environment and communities.” He closed with several quotes from organizations, including a public statement from Southwestern Energy which said, “What we do today with reduced emissions completions in our wells doesn’t cost us any more than just venting the gas into the atmosphere.”

John Corra began his testimony by mentioning the 36,000 oil and gas wells in Wyoming that were not under federal regulation. Fifteen years ago, the state realized the need to manage these oil and gas sources. Corra discussed Wyoming’s “three-tiered approach” which accounts for differences in “intensities of development.” He stated that even though Wyoming’s amount of wells and gas production has increased since 2008, emissions of VOCs and nitrogen oxides have decreased from winter 2009 to winter 2011. Corra closed by noting the “flood of new regulations” from EPA and the lack of funding to help meet these issued regulations.

Tisha Schuller began her testimony by discussing two air emission regulations. First, she discussed Colorado’s Regulation Number 7 which reduces ozone precursors. Second, Rule 805, added in 2008, states that green completions are to be used when “technically and economically feasible.” This rule encouraged the capture of natural gas and reduction of odors. Schuller listed concerns with the EPA regulations including over-estimated emission estimates, compliance requirements, and economics.

Darren Smith began his testimony by stating Devon Energy “does support responsible regulations,” but is against “unreasonable” regulations “grounded on unsound science.” Smith focused his testimony on the over-estimates on data used by the EPA. He said data was reported to EPA via the Natural Gas STAR program, which he said “came from three companies.” Smith said this program reports “gas captured, not gas emitted.” He closed by saying there are concerns that “continued policy research is going in the wrong direction.”

William Allison began his testimony by saying Colorado uses hydraulic fracturing as a standard practice for “virtually” all oil and gas wells. He said federal rules would give a “level playing field” nationwide. He mentioned the use of low-bleed or no-bleed valves which abide by EPA’s rule. Allison said he supports “continued and adequate” congressional funding to ensure EPA and the states can implement these rules.

Barrasso asked Corra about the flexibility of local compared to national rules. Corra said that Wyoming’s ability “to implement policies and have agreement on those policies […] has been essential for us to act swiftly.”

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) asked Smith where green completion is not working. Smith said places with “no infrastructure.” He further stated that the new NSPS rule from EPA has text that is “problematic for operators that are developing in new areas.”

Carper asked if the EPA has given enough time to comply with the standards. Schuller said that industry will be able to meet most, but problems will arise around manufacturing and implementation. Carper closed the hearing by posing one final question to the panel asking each person to give a quick idea of how to make the EPA rule better. Krupp noted how the rule only applies to new wells and standards should apply to existing wells. Corra said not to “over emphasize the importance of allowing states to have the flexibility to implement [the rules] according to the conditions in their own states.” Schuler said compliance needed to be modified so operators can adapt. Smith said the need to make sure “credible science is used.” Allison pointed out how the rules only apply to gas wells.

Witness testimonies, opening statements and an archived web cast is available at the committee’s web site.

-KNR

House Committee on Natural Resources Oversight Hearing on “The Council on Environmental Quality’s Fiscal Year 2013 Funding Request and the Effects on NEPA, National Ocean Policy and Other Federal Environmental Policy Initiatives”
March 7, 2012

Witness:
Nancy Sutley
Chairwoman, Council on Environmental Quality

Members Present:
Doc Hastings (R-WA), Chairman
Ed Markey (D-MA), Ranking Member
John Fleming (R-LA)
Dale Kildee (D-MI)
Steve Southerland (R-FL)
Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI)
Doug Lamborn (R-CO)
Jim Costa (D-CA)
Don Young (R-AK)
John Sarbanes (D-MD)
Bill Flores (R-TX)
Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU)
Glenn Thompson (R-PA)
Rush Holt (D-NJ)
Scott Tipton (R-CO)
Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-MP)
Bill Johnson (R-OH)
Grace Napolitano (D-CA)
Ben Lujan (D-NM)

On March 7, 2012, the House Committee on Natural Resources held an oversight hearing on “The Council on Environmental Quality’s Fiscal Year 2013 Funding Request and the Effects on NEPA, National Ocean Policy and Other Federal Environmental Policy Initiatives.”  The Chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Nancy Sutley was present to answer questions from the committee members.  CEQ was created through the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA, P.L.91-190) and has requested $13.1 million for fiscal year (FY) 2013.  President Obama released his proposed budget for (FY) 2013 on February 14, 2012. 

Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) began his opening statement by rehashing the duty of CEQ when he said, “As the environmental policy arm of the White House, CEQ provides guidance to all federal agencies through policy initiatives and the interpretation of statutes and regulations.”  Hastings said he hoped this hearing would provide him with more information on the National Ocean Policy specifically a clarification on its source of funding.  He said his concern over National Ocean Policy funding stems from the large scope of the project but the absence of formal funding requests.  He expressed his worry over this situation when he stated, “This implies to me either nothing is planned for FY 2013 to implement the Policy, or all of these agencies are quietly siphoning money from other activities to fund this unauthorized activity.”  The chairman was equally concerned over the National Ocean Policy’s action in enforcing the policy on inland tributaries and watersheds despite the lack of any inland states on the Governance Coordinating Committee (GCC), which is the governing body on inter-jurisdictional ocean policy issues.

Ranking Member of the Committee Ed Markey (D-MA) opened by praising the National Ocean Policy in saying, “It provides, at long last, a unifying framework to better coordinate and integrate over 100 different existing laws, policies, and regulations affecting the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes.”  Markey emphasized the vital role oceans and coastal areas play in the U.S. economy.  He praised CEQ in leading the Interagency Climate Change Adaption Task Force, which is aiding the federal government in planning and responding to the impacts of climate change.  The ranking member closed by reciting a poem he wrote based on Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax” urging the committee to support CEQ.  Markey said, “What will we do if we lose CEQ/ Just a moment and I’ll tell you/ We’d find a lonely place, that’s a disgrace/ Where rivers burn and fish can’t swim/ Where the air is thick and the sunlight dim/ It would be a sad place that time forgot/ Unless someone like you funds CEQ/ Nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

Sutley began her opening statement by saying, “The President’s budget reflects the importance of safeguarding our environment and strengthening our economy by investing in clean energy, innovation, and manufacturing.”  Sutley said that CEQ has focused their efforts on “implementing and modernizing” NEPA, improving federal government sustainability, enhancing the stewardships of the U.S. oceans and Great Lakes, protecting ecosystems, and advancing clean energy.  Sutley reported that CEQ has made improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of the NEPA process.  She hailed the National Ocean Policy as setting a precedent for other federal agencies when she said, “The National Ocean Policy provides the framework for all federal agencies to better work together and avoid the kinds of conflicts that often delay or derail projects that support the economy and coastal communities.”  Sutley affirmed the Obama Administrations commitment to protecting the nation’s land and waters, which support more than 9 million jobs and more than $1 trillion dollars in annual revenue.  She said that as a part of this commitment the American Great Outdoors Initiative was created in 2010 with the goal of establishing a “conservation agenda.”

Hastings began the question and answer portion of the hearing by inquiring about the National Ocean Policy.  Hastings took issue with regional planning bodies acting as the voice of the public in the development of national ocean policies.  He asked Sutley if these regional zoning bodies will have to comply with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (P.L.92-463), a law requiring material covered in advisory committees to be objective and accessible to the public.  Sutley responded that these regional planning bodies consist of government members and are thus exempt from the Federal Advisory Committee Act.  She assured Hastings that the goal of these regional planning bodies is to involve the public with the utmost transparency.  Hastings continued his questioning by asking Sutley to comment on the lack of representation of inland states in the GCC.  He did not understand how these states cannot be represented when the National Ocean Policy subjects them to regulations on water runoff.  Sutley replied that “there are circumstances in which you have to look at situations on the land… [With] runoff being one of them.”  She did not answer the question on the lack of representation instead choosing to continually assert that CEQ is not issuing new regulations.  She said they are simply focusing on the regulations in place that pertain to land activities that may affect the health of the oceans.  Later, Congressman Steve Southerland (R-FL) debated the same issue over new regulation confusion.  He said he was amazed that Sutley could say that no new regulations are being implemented “yet the very statement from the White House is very clear in that it will lead to new regulations.”  Southerland claimed that President Obama signed an executive order that sets a path for new regulations.  Sutley said the executive order called for CEQ to identify efficiencies within the hundreds of existing regulations and not to create new regulations.

Markey questioned Sutley if the government should as “good stewards of federal lands and taxpayers dollars” prepare against climate change issues such as rising sea levels, increased length of wild fire season, and decreasing snow pack.  Sutley responded that CEQ feels it is “prudent” to examine how they manage these risks and increase resiliency.  Markey asserted to Sutley and the rest of the Committee that he was satisfied by the undertakings of the interagency climate change task force.

Congressman John Fleming (R-LA) let it be known that he disapproves of the Obama Administration's stance on drilling of the outer continental shelf (OCS).  He disapproved of statements made by Obama, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu all insinuating that high gas prices are good because it will help force the nation away from fossil fuel dependency.  Fleming said that these soaring gas prices are bad for local businesses in Louisiana and he asked how the Obama Administration was planning to act on OCS drilling.  Sutley retorted that 75 percent of OCS areas with known reserves of oil and natural gas are currently open to drilling.  Fleming denounced this statement saying that these areas have only recently been opened and that the majority of OCS drilling was opened by President Bush before being closed by President Obama following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) questioned Sutley on how many new regulations CEQ has implemented since President Obama took office.  Sutley responded that CEQ has created no new regulations but that they have pushed “a number of guidance documents.”  Tipton requested Sutley follow up with the committee on the number of regulations that have been created through these guidance documents.  He stated that he has heard testimony that “if we stack up all the regulations that have come into play since this administration took office it stacks over 13 feet tall.”  Tipton closed by expressing his disapproval of regulations within the National Ocean Policy that are prohibiting the treatment of dead standing timber in Colorado consequently creating a fire hazard.

A webcast, witness testimony, and opening statements can be found on the Natural Resources Committee web site

-APR

House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Hearing to discuss the President's Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Request for the Environmental Protection Agency
February 29, 2012

Witnesses
Lisa Jackson
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Barbara Bennett
Chief Financial Officer

Subcommittee Members Present
Mike Simpson (R-ID), Chair of the Subcommittee
Jim Moran (D-VA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee
Maurice Hinchey (D-NY)
Ken Calvert (R-CA)
Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)
Jerry Lewis (R-CA)
Tom Cole (R-OK)
Betty McCollum (D-MN)
Jose Serrano (D-NY)
Steven LaTourette (R-OH)

Full Committee Members Present
Hal Rogers (R-KY), Chairman of the Full Committee
Norm Dicks (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Full Committee

On February 29, 2012, the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies held a hearing to receive testimony from Administrator Lisa Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about the President’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget.

Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) told Jackson he was pleased to see reductions in the proposed budget. Even though this budget continues a three-year trend in reductions, Simpson pointed out that the FY 2013 budget would still be its fifth highest appropriation ever. He was disappointed to see the Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) program was not fully funded but was pleased to see Indian Environmental General Assistance Program (GAP) grants were supported.

Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA) called the three-year trend of a declining budget “unsustainable.” He chastised the authorization committees for not passing constructive environmental legislation and pointed out that law is being set in courtrooms instead. The Interior and Environment appropriation bill should not be “a dumping ground” for bills not passed in the authorization committees, Moran said, referring to riders.

Chairman of the full committee Hal Rogers (R-KY) told the subcommittee he disagreed with the budget’s decision to reduce funding for fossil fuel research and development. He called the budget a “coordinated, methodical White House assault on carbon energy” and said that it was “prioritizing regulation over job creation.”

Full committee Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-WA) said, “Austerity is not going to get the job done” and critiqued the administration’s decision to cut funding for construction accounts. After listing off the funding for the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes, Dicks told Jackson the “Puget Sound budget pails in comparison.”

Jackson began her testimony by describing the President’s $8.344 billion budget to fulfill “EPA’s core mission of protecting public health and the environment.” She pointed out that 15 percent of the budget would be directed toward state and tribes through categorical grants. Focusing on the $807 million that would be allocated for science and technology, she told the committee that $81 million of that amount would be directed at universities for fellowships and targeted research as part of the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program. Jackson discussed the $14 million in EPA’s budget that would be for a collaborative research effort between the Department of Energy (DOE) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) into hydraulic fracturing. Referring to EPA’s ongoing congressionally mandated study into hydraulic fracturing, she said that her agency has “taken great steps to ensure [the study] is independent, peer reviewed and based on strong and scientifically defensible data.”

“Here we are again,” Chairman Rogers told Jackson as he began the question and answer period. He told Jackson he believes the EPA is violating the Administrative Procedure Act (P.L. 79 404). On October 6, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia found EPA overstepped its authority when reviewing certain Clean Water Act (CWA, P.L. 92 500) permits normally granted by the Army Corps of Engineers. Jackson argued that their decision does not change EPA’s authority to review applications in other sections of the CWA. Rogers pressed Jackson to name an Appalachian mine she had approved during her tenure which she could not do.

Dicks told Jackson that the budget proposal should provide more money for the restoration of the Puget Sound because the state has met the same requirements that Virginia and Maryland have for the Chesapeake.  Jackson assured the congressman that EPA will continue to work with Washington to restore the Puget Sound. Dicks said he was surprised to see funding aimed at reducing emissions from wood stoves and asked if it was a nationwide issue. Jackson responded that it was and said EPA is committed to moving the nation toward cleaner stoves.  

Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Jackson discussed EPA’s particulate matter (PM) standards for particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM-10). In Flake’s district, there are many dust storms. Flake wondered why his district has to produce a document for the EPA requesting them to treat the dust storm as an exceptional event. Jackson told him that EPA has received comments on this subject and will soon release a “response to comments” document.  

Representative Steven LaTourette (R-OH), whose district borders Lake Erie, began his questions with a discussion of invasive species in the Great Lakes. He praised the USGS for their efforts in preventing the introduction of Asian carp species into the Great Lakes. He said, “I think the USGS is heading in the right direction here.” He praised the EPA for their success in preventing the introduction of invasive species in the Great Lakes through their ballast water regulations. Jackson asked LaTourette, “Can you repeat that?” when LaTourette told her he looks forward to EPA’s hydraulic fracturing regulations. “We need a standard,” he said referring to nationwide hydraulic fracturing regulation. Jackson agreed with LaTourette that EPA should coordinate with USGS and DOE when crafting the regulations.

Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) continued the conversation about hydraulic fracturing and asked about the EPA’s December 2011 draft report on ground water contamination near Pavilion, Wyoming. He pointed out that Cornell University had found the draft report to be credible and asked about the scientific process that was used to develop the draft report. Jackson told Hinchey that EPA did a phase one and two study which sampled home wells, shallow monitoring wells, and livestock wells then moved to phase three and four studies on two deeper monitoring wells and selected drinking water wells. The wells that had contamination were not domestic wells, she reiterated, but were deeper wells. She told Hinchey that EPA was interested in including the USGS in their next round of sampling.

Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) was interested in continuing the conversation on the Pavilion study “started by a gentleman that lives 2000 miles away.” She told Jackson that the water around Pavilion is inherently “bad water” due to a “natural methane seep.” She asked whether EPA will commit to subjecting their draft report to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) peer review guidelines for highly influential scientific assessments. Jackson said EPA has done that even though it is not classified as a highly influential scientific assessment.

Simpson closed the hearing by pleading Jackson to improve EPA’s public relations. He said he hears rumors of new regulations from his constituents and has trouble correcting the accusations and defending the agency. Jackson agreed that EPA could improve this aspect of their work.

 A webcast of the hearing can be found on the committee’s web site.

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Hearing on “Fostering Quality Science in the EPA: The Need for Common Sense Reform”
November 17, 2011

Witnesses
Paul Anastas
Assistant Administrator, Office of Research and Development, Environmental Protection Agency
David Trimble
Director, Natural Resources and Environment, Government Accountability Office
Arthur Elkins, Jr.
Inspector General, Environmental Protection Agency

Committee Members Present
Andy Harris, Chair (R-MD)
Brad Miller, Ranking Member (D-NC)
Paul Tonko (D-NY)
Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Jerry McNerney (D-CA)
Ralph Hall (R-TX)

On November 17, 2011, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing to discuss ways to foster quality scientific research in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC) requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine EPA’s internal scientific processes and make recommendations for improvement. GAO published their report in July 2011. This hearing called upon witnesses to testify on the reforms EPA has made since the report was released and the ways in which EPA can improve the quality of its scientific policies and processes.

Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) opened the hearing with some background on the Environmental Research, Development and Demonstration Authorization Act (ERDA, P.L. 95-155), which is currently the only statute dedicated to maintaining quality science in the EPA. This act, which established the Office of Research and Development (ORD) within EPA, has not been reauthorized since 1981. Harris told the committee about a number of concerns he has with EPA’s data quality, peer review, and lack of transparency, all of which, in his opinion, undermine the credibility of the agency’s efforts.

Paul Tonko (D-NY) provided an opening statement in Ranking Member Brad Miller’s place, as Miller arrived late to the hearing due to a scheduling conflict. Tonko chided his Republican counterparts for regarding EPA as a “demonic” agency and disapproved of their assertion that these scientific integrity issues within the agency “appeared” during the current administration, as they have been present since before President Obama took office. Though the scientific reforms recommended by GAO will take time, he asserted, it will ultimately lead to better research within EPA. Tonko also requested that Chairman Harris submit to the record the letter and testimony of Dr. Marsha Morgan, a research scientist at EPA, who was not able to testify in person. The chairman submitted the documents as a letter and attachment to the record, since in his eyes a testimony “must be able to be questioned.”

Paul Anastas, from the ORD within EPA, told the committee that his agency works closely with its external advisory board and seeks input from the scientific community and the public “every step of the way.” He emphasized EPA’s collaborative research plans that bridge the gaps between the headquarters and EPA’s regional laboratories. “We take GAO’s recommendations very seriously,” he stated, as his organization is committed to strong science. Arthur Elkins, Inspector General of EPA, reminded the committee that EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA) was reviewed in 2009 by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and they found NCEA’s peer-review panels to be “inadequate.” Additionally, OIG suggested that ORD should improve how it evaluates the “effectiveness of its policies and procedures for scientific integrity and research misconduct.” After taking a survey of the 1,300 employees within ORD, OIG discovered that two-thirds of the department were unaware of EPA’s federal policy on research misconduct, while one-third was unaware of the agency’s Principles of Scientific Integrity. David Trimble of GAO read his testimony that detailed the findings from the report released earlier that summer. According to the GAO study, EPA independently runs its thirty-seven regional laboratories, yet the agency did not “collaborate between facilities” or across program boundaries.  Trimble added that EPA lacks a “top science official,” property management of its labs, and a comprehensive workload analysis, which he deemed “essential” given the agency’s tight resources. He concluded saying EPA has addressed some issues but “has not fully addressed the findings and recommendations of five independent evaluations over the past 20 years.”

During the question and answer period, Chairman Harris asked Anastas why EPA plans to collect data “retrospectively” for its hydraulic fracturing study. Anastas replied that the study incorporates both types of data; the retrospective data will be collected at sites that have already been contaminated. Harris questioned the usefulness of such data, believing it will not provide information on the source of contamination. After reminding the committee that there have been “no incidents of contamination from hydrofracking,” both Harris and Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) asked Anastas why EPA has taken on the study, when it can be focusing its funds to other pertinent issues. Anastas responded, “You can’t find what you’re not looking for,” and told the congressmen it is EPA’s duty to perform a study if “real concerns are out there.”

Ranking Member Miller asked Elkins for the positives and drawbacks of EPA’s peer-review process. While the procedures in the EPA’s peer-review process handbook did not sufficiently address policy issues, Elkins said it is “adequate today” after OIG made their recommendations. When asked if there was any reason to question EPA’s scientific results after completing the GAO study, Trimble responded, “We did not go into that.” Dana Rohrabacher also asked similar questions about the Inspector General’s recommendations for EPA’s peer-review process.

Tonko requested an explanation for how EPA’s six areas of research align with its regional offices. Anastas told the congressman that EPA does not” look at fragmented programs,” rather its offices work together “over cross-cutting areas.” He praised the agency’s many improvements since the OIG recommendations were submitted, and said he could think of no remaining impediments to quality scientific collection and collaboration left within the agency.

Jerry McNerney (D-CA) asked Elkins if there are statutory impediments within EPA that are stopping changes from happening. “Generally speaking,” Elkins said, ORD has been responsive to the OIG recommendations, but he “has not dealt into” statutory limitations within the agency. Trimble agreed, but reiterated the need for a top science official and a “structured scientific coordinating body” within EPA. In his words, the lack of a top scientific official is a “formula for weak scientific data.” McNerney inquired about the parts of EPA that have “suffered” due to its “deficiencies.” Trimble mentioned that the lack of a workload estimation has caused human resources issues, and data quality and reliability have also been impacted.

Ralph Hall (R-TX) asked Anastas if the hydraulic fracturing study plans were reviewed before EPA began data collection. Anastas said they were reviewed beforehand. In response to Hall’s request, Anastas assured the congressman that the decision to release the report in 2012 was not politically driven.

The opening statement, witness testimonies, hearing charter, hearing webcast, and witness truth in testimonies can be found at the committee web site.

-ERC

House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Oversight Hearing on "Jobs at Risk: Waste and Mismanagement by the Obama Administration in Rewriting the Stream Buffer Zone Rule"
November 4, 2011

Witness
Joseph Pizarchik
Director, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement

Subcommittee Members Present
Doug Lamborn, Chairman (R-CO)
Rush Holt, Ranking Member (D-NJ)
Bill Flores (R-TX)
Bill Johnson (R-OH)
Glenn Thompson (R-PA)
Jeff Duncan (R-SC)

On November 4, 2011, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing to discuss the Obama Administration’s efforts to replace the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule (SBZ) with a new Stream Protection Rule (SPR) and their ensuing effects on local jobs and the environment. The committee took the opportunity to discuss Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s decision to incorporate the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) into the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This hearing follows the September 26 field hearing that discussed the impacts of the SBZ rewrite on local West Virginia communities.

Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) opened the hearing stating that he is “deeply concerned” about the potential impact that the SBZ rewrite will have on coal mining jobs and on the nation’s access to coal resources. Providing a quotation from former Wyoming Governor Dave Freundenthal, Lamborn argued that the current process to rewrite the SBZ does not provide states “meaningful opportunity to comment and participate.” Regarding the placement of OSM within BLM, he mentioned that there are “clear statutory limitations” prohibiting OSM from leasing or promoting coal production, both of which are responsibilities of BLM.

Ranking Member Rush Holt (D-NJ) said in his opening statement that over two thousand miles of Appalachian streams have been filled with rocks and debris from mountaintop removal, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As such, Holt stressed waters and streams need to be protected for the local people in nearby communities. Holt told the committee that Polu Kai Services (PKS), the contractor charged with preparing an environmental assessment of the SPR did not have any expertise on the topic, and he “hopes that the majority doesn’t use inadequate documents.” In his opinion, the current rule does not protect stream and water quality, and the central issue of this hearing should be the protection of the environment and the people living in affected areas.

Full Committee Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA) said, “Mountaintop removal is one of the most environmentally destructive activities.” He told the committee that the SBZ was a “midnight rule” enacted by the Bush Administration to increase coal production, thus OSM needs to improve the rule to take the environment and public health into consideration.

Joseph Pizarchik, Director of OSM, said in his testimony that the 2008 SBZ Rule is being revised because “they are areas that should be improved,” including enhancing land reclamation and regulatory provisions, and reducing the impact of coal mining on water and aquatic ecosystems. Pizarchik noted that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from OSM will look at a range of alternatives and their individual economic impacts. The proposed rule and associated draft EIS, both open for public, state, and federal input, will be published in 2012.

During the question and answer period, Lamborn told Pizarchik that OSM has not explicitly explained the environmental impacts that have prompted the SPR. Pizarchik said, “If you look at what is happening in the field, there are a number of cases that weren’t considered” when the 2008 SBZ rule was established. He gave examples such as fish depletion in streams due to high total dissolved solids (TDS), selenium bioaccumulation in fish populations, and the “shoot and shove” process which allows excess rocks and debris to be released downslope causing blockage in streams. He later added that valley fill regulations and geomorphic land reclamation techniques need to be updated, the reforestation and “material damage” statutes need more detailed definitions, and baseline data regulations need to be enforced. Lamborn told Pizarchik that this list of cases was not mentioned in OSM’s federal register notice announcing the SPR. Lamborn expressed concern that OSM is not examining a full range of options, including a “no-action” option. Pizarchik said that each option is being considered under the National Environmental Policy Act regulations.

Bill Johnson (R-OH) asked Pizarchik to respond to claims that the SPR has been created at a “world-record pace.” While it has been moving along “in a timely fashion,” Pizarchik assured the congressman that the process has had more public involvement and comment than the 2008 rule received. When asked about what prompted the new SPR, Pizarchik referred to an environmental lawsuit that caused OSM to consider making amendments to the current SBZ.

Lamborn expressed concern about job losses as a result of the SPR and asked Pizarchik if the EIS will examine economic and job consequences. Pizarchik said he is “not an expert on the economics,” but he can assure the new contractor will give full attention to all possible outcomes. According to Pizarchik the SPR will not reduce the number of jobs, as more people will be needed to take water quality samples and transport rock and debris out of the valleys. Ranking Member Holt asked if OSM should give weight to the results that PKS reported in its assessment, given that their report was deemed “inaccurate and incomplete... and insufficient for a document of this importance” by OSM. Pizarchik said that the findings from PKS will not be used and another contractor is performing a new assessment. In response, Johnson asked how OSM knew that the report supplied by PKS was insufficient. Pizarchik said that “everybody can agree” that PKS used placeholder numbers plugged into a formula that produced arbitrary values.

Ranking Member Holt expressed concerns that OSM will lose experts during its incorporation into BLM. Pizarchik replied that some efficiencies will actually be gained during the reorganization. He quoted Interior Secretary Salazar, saying “OSM is an independent entity” and will be able to maintain its authority once incorporated into BLM. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) asked if OSM could avoid reorganization by using its resources more efficiently. Pizarchik said insufficient agency support and staff cuts forced OSM to seek outside assistance with its oversight and technical support functions. Bill Flores (R-TX) noted to combine leasing and regulatory responsibilities for the coal industry is contrary to the administration’s recent decision to split these jurisdictions into the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) for the offshore drilling industry. Flores and Johnson insisted the Department of the Interior has no statutory authority to merge the two agencies, but Pizarchik said the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (P.L. 95-87) only prohibits OSM to collaborate with an agency that has a financial interest in coal production. He assured Johnson the statutory provisions in the SBZ will be looked at without seeking legislative amendments, and OSM will be receiving congressional input on the SPR.

The hearing webcast, majority opening statement, and witness testimony can be found on the committee web site.

-ERC

House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Hearing on "H.R. 1505 and H.R. 587"
July 8, 2011

 

Witnesses
Jim Pena
Associate Deputy Chief, National Forest Systems , U.S. Forest Service
Kim Thorsen
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Law Enforcement, Security, and Emergency Management, Department of the Interior
Dale Penny
CEO, Student Conservation Association
Claude E. Guyant
Founding Member, National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers
Gary Thrasher
Arizona Cattle Growers Association, Public Lands Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
John D. Leshy
Professor of Law, U.C. Hastings College of the Law

Subcommittee Members Present
Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chairman
Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Ranking Member
Dale Kildee (D-MI)
Tom McClintock (R-CA)
Raul Labrador (R-ID)
John Garamendi (D-CA)

Full Committee Members Present
Edward Markey (D-MA), Ranking Member
Paul Gosar (R-AZ)

Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) introduced his bill, The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, (H.R. 1505) on April 13, 2011 to prohibit the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from using environmental regulations that would prevent the U.S. Border Patrol from securing the U.S. border on federal lands. On February 9, 2011, Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced the Public Lands Service Corps Act of 2011 (H.R. 587) to amend the Public Lands Corps Act of 1993 (16 USC 1721-1729) in authorizing the Department of Commerce, USDA, and DOI to promote the value of public service to America’s youth while restoring the nation's resources. These two bills were reviewed by the subcommittee on July 8, 2011

Bishop provided in his opening statement a review of the bills at hand and proceeded to elaborate on both bills. In regards to H.R. 587, he stated that the opportunity to provide jobs and employ people to work on public lands is a “concept that makes sense.” He also commented on H.R. 1505 stating that border security is the first priority in protecting the nation’s public lands and emphasized that the environment is not being harmed by the border patrol.

Grijalva provided an overview of H.R. 587 in his opening statement. He added that his bill is a job training bill which boosts environmental protection. Grijalva disapproved of H.R. 1505 saying that this bill is seeking to “tear [H.R. 587] down.” He said that the Government Accountability Office, DOI, USDA, and Border Patrol all testified, in April 2011, that federal environmental laws and regulations are not inhibiting border security.

In Jim Pena’s testimony, he reiterated his support of H.R. 587. He said this was a “welcome[d] amendment to the Public Lands Corps Act of 1993.” He told the committee this bill would not only strengthen the Public Lands Corps (PLC) program but would also engage youth in educational and employment opportunities.  Although praised, the USDA would like some amendments added to the bill regarding hiring preferences, cost sharing with non-profit organizations, living allowance differences, and agreements with partners on training Corps Members. In regards to H.R. 1505, Pena stated the USDA’s opposition to the legislation. Although it is recognized that there are security and law enforcement issues along the border, the USDA feels that “H.R. 1505 would waive the requirement for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to comply with the National Environment Policy Act of 1969, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and some two dozen other environmental laws.” The DHS would be able to build roads, fences, and other equipment without consulting other federal agencies within one hundred miles of the International border. Pena added that the legislation is not needed due to the Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) signed in 2006 and 2008.

In her testimony, Kim Thorsen expressed DOI’s approval of H.R. 587. While Thorsen agreed with Bishop that the border needs to be secure while also protecting the natural resource, she opposed H.R. 1505. She told Bishop the bill has the ability to instill unintended damage to the natural and cultural resources because of the lack of consultation with local, state, and federal governments and local residents. Without public review or notices of intended border security activities on federal land, she said the safety of visitors and agency law enforcement may be compromised.

Dale Penny approved H.R. 587 in his testimony. He emphasized that this bill is “needed more now than ever.” He said this bill would expand the opportunities for 16-24 year olds in maintaining public lands especially when unemployment for this age bracket is 19.1 percent.

In Gary Thrasher’s testimony, he stated his approval of H.R. 1505. He emphasized the importance of this legislation saying this bill is needed to protect the “sovereignty and security” of the border and to protect national security. He commented that smugglers are becoming more violent in their determination to protect contraband and control their trails to and from Mexico. This is driving residents away from their homes and businesses. Claude Guyant approved of H.R. 1505 saying that this bill has provided leadership to change the conflict between environmental concerns and national security by putting national security first. John Leshy opposed H.R. 1505 saying that this bill goes “way beyond what is necessary and proper, in our constitutional system, to enforce immigration laws.” This bill would immunize the DHS from liability in restoration of federal lands and DHS would be given the power to make decisions without review from other agencies and the public.

Grijalva started the questioning by asking Penny how the Student Conservation Association (SCA) will adjust to the gap between the baby boomers and the following generation and how the Corps can bridge that gap. Penny answered that as 50 percent of the workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next few years and the next generation of employees needs to be educated in natural and environmental resource issues. He believes the SCA and other similar programs will help solve this gap. John Garamendi (D-CA) praised H.R. 587, stating his daughters had a fabulous time serving with the Corps and further commended Grijalva for this great bill.

The focus was then shifted to H.R. 1505 when Garamendi asked if this bill affects all federal land within 100 miles of the border. Leshy answered that H.R. 1505 affects the 100 mile corridor, as well as all federal lands throughout the country. Garamendi answered, “That’s incredible, and I think particularly stupid.” He further concluded that giving one agency so much power as well as skirting the review process is unwise and said “we ought to kill this bill now.”

Dale Kildee (D-MI) expressed concern over the broadness of H.R. 1505 as well as the negative environmental impacts the bill may cause. Pena commented that there would be a greater environmental impact if the border patrol is given authority to patrol all public lands instead of specifically focusing on public lands located near the border. He believes it would be more effective to locate the problem immigration areas along the border and concentrate on those areas. Kildee fears that drawing lines along the Canadian border will have negative impacts on the U.S.’s partnership with Canada.

Tom McClintock (R-CA) asked Thrasher to describe the general environment of the border corridor. Thrasher stated that the environment has been overprotected causing overgrowth of vegetation and the erosion of roadways. This protection has inhibited the Border Patrol from adequately securing the border which has caused damage to private lands and infrastructure.

Written testimonies from the witnesses, a documented webcast, and other information can be found here.

-VAB

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife Hearing on the "Status of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment"
June 28, 2011

Witnesses
Panel 1
Cynthia Dohner
Regional Director, Southeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Tony Penn
Deputy Chief, Assessment and Restoration Division, Office of Response and Restoration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Panel 2
Donald Boesch
Professor of Marine Science and President, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
Member, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling
Margaret Leinen
Vice-Chair, Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Research Board
Executive Director, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute
Associate Provost, Marine and Environmental Initiatives, Florida Atlantic University
Erik Rifkin
Interim Executive Director, National Aquarium Conservation Center, National Aquarium
Garret Graves
Chair, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority
Cooper Shattuck
Chairman, Executive Committee, Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council
Legal Advisor to the Governor of Alabama

Subcommittee Members Present
Benjamin Cardin, Chairman (D-MD)
Jeff Sessions, Ranking Member (R-AL)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
David Vitter (R-LA)

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife held a hearing on June 28, 2011 to assess the status of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process of the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The NRDA process was created through the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) that resulted from the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.

Subcommittee Chairman Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) began the hearing with an opening statement outlining the impacts of the spill, which released 4.9 billion barrels of oil over 87 days, making it 20 times greater than the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) explained the economic impact that the spill has had on his home state. The seafood industry, which brings $1 billon per year into Alabama, was shut down for several months. One study found that oyster beds could take 10 years to recover while dirty beaches continue to hurt the tourism industry. 

Senator David Vitter (R-LA) cited several grievances with the way that the incident has been handled. He stated that the federal response of a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has hurt Louisiana. He requested that, consistent with suggestions in the U.S. Navy’s report America’s Gulf Coast: A Long Term Recovery Plan After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, 80 percent of the fines levied on BP under the Clean Water Act be applied to restoration costs. This notion was reiterated in the testimonies of Donald Boesch and Garret Graves. 

Cynthia Dohner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Tony Penn of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), both of whom are working on the NRDA process, outlined the progress of the assessment. Dohner explained that 24 private non-governmental agencies are involved as well as leading university researchers. The process includes three phases: pre-assessment activities, injury assessment and restoration planning, and restoration implementation, with the second phase currently underway. Tony Penn asserted that the process has been one of the most transparent damage assessments in history, thanks to the NOAA Gulf Spill Restoration web site and the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA) web site. He added that the NRDA field research has been more extensive than that of any single oil release in history with 115 study plans approved, 21,000 laboratory analyses conducted, and 90 oceanic cruises undertaken.

Senators Cardin, Sessions, Vitter and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) were all interested in the speed of the NRDA process. Vitter said that the cleanup process, estimated to last one decade, will take far too long. Sessions stated that there needs to be someone who is making sure that it is moving forward. Penn responded that the process is not moving slowly and that restoration will begin well before it has with other oil spills. Sessions noted that there is concern that BP might hesitate to proceed with restoration while the initial response phase is still occurring due to legal issues. Penn assured the subcommittee that this has not caused any delays. Whitehouse asked if there have been any deadlocks between BP and the NRDA team, particularly with regard to finances as BP, the liable party, is responsible for funding the assessment and restoration. Penn explained that there are sometimes “push-and-pull” disagreements but it is assumed that any study that the NRDA team does will be paid for in the future.

Sessions and Cardin inquired about the leadership of the study. Cardin noted the importance of an “independent scientific base” that is not controlled by BP. He asked if there is a similar independent assessment panel liked there was with the Exxon Valdez spill. Penn responded that there is currently no independent panel for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Sessions asked who is in charge of the process. Dohner explained that there is a board of seven co-trustees representing different interests in the region, each having an equal vote in all assessment-related activities.

Vitter commented that it is “universally recognized” that NOAA’s baseline stock assessments of fish populations throughout the U.S. are inadequate. Cardin and Penn agreed that the organization needs to improve baselines. Vitter was very interested in restoration plans for the seafood population. He cited reports that red snappers in the region have shown lesions and predictions that the oyster population will suffer for decades. Penn and Dohner said that red snapper and oyster restoration are being addressed.

The second panel provided a different perspective on the effectiveness of the NRDA process. Garrett Graves expressed frustration in his testimony, emphasizing that BP has excessive control over the research and that there is a conflict of interest. This has led to cases of insufficient action such as designating contaminated areas as requiring no further treatment. Graves said that BP is not required to begin restoration until the NRDA process is complete and that it is expected to take far too long—15 years or more. Erik Rifkin centered his testimony on the National Aquarium’s concern that the NRDA process is not using a methodological approach that can adequately measure small quantities of petroleum contaminants. 
 
Donald Boesch expressed concern about projects that call for an “equitable” allocation of resources between the impacted states, as Louisiana was significantly more impacted than the other states. Boesch added that legislation to allocate funds from Clean Water penalties to the states has stalled. He mentioned concerns about the fairness of the NRDA trustee board’s project approval process, requiring agreement from four of the seven members. Margaret Leinen’s testimony provided an outline of what is being researched by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, a program independent of the NRDA process but also funded by BP. Cooper Shattuck, one of the seven co-trustees on the NRDA board, presented the group’s progress in a positive light. He said that the response to the spill has shown widespread cooperation between states and responsible parties, created a precedent for action on future oil spills, and has been a “tremendous success.”

Cardin asked Shattuck if he feels that the co-trustees have access to adequate resources.  Shattuck responded that although there can never be enough resources, “BP has wisely determined that if they don’t fund it at this point they’ll pay more in the future.” He added that without BP’s financial support, the process will not move forward.

Whitehouse brought the conversation back to the inadequacy of baseline data and ocean knowledge in the United States. He asked each of the panelists to provide recommendations on how to improve this. All of the panelists agreed strongly that the nation’s ocean knowledge needs improvement. Boesch recommended that a modest fee be imposed on all offshore energy industries to support ocean research, providing a stable and predictable source of funding. Leinen added that there is a strong understanding of how changes in weather affect the economy but very little understanding of how physical changes in the ocean can do the same. Shattuck reminded the panel and committee that although baseline data would be helpful, everyone must move forward with the knowledge that already exists.

Nearly every panelist and Senator made a point to commend BP for their commitment to providing $1 billion towards early restoration. However, with this praise came equal cautioning. Cardin called it a good step but added that the damage could be billions more. Sessions remarked that BP should be held responsible “to the last dollar of their corporate existence” while Whitehouse added that it is important to remain vigilant when there is this much money at stake and one company has “bought up all the science.” 

An archived webcast of the hearing and witness testimonies can be found here.

-LMH

House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs Hearing on "Why We Should Care About Bats: Devastating Impact White-Nose Syndrome is Having on One of Nature's Best Pest Controllers"
June 24, 2011

Witnesses
Gabriela Chavarria
Science Advisor to the Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Accompanied By:
David Blehert, National Wildlife Health Center, U.S. Geological Survey
Jim Peña
Associate Deputy Chief, U.S. Forest Service
Jonathan Gassett
Commissioner, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
Nina Fascione
Executive Director, Bat Conservation International
Peter Youngbaer
White-Nose Syndrome Liaison, National Speleological Society
Justin Boyles
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee

Subcommittee Members Present
John Fleming, Chairman (R-LA)
Madeleine Bordallo, serving as Ranking Member (D-GU)
Rob Wittman (R-VA)

The Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a hearing on June 24, 2011 to discuss the devastating impact of white-nose syndrome on the U.S. bat population.

Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) began the hearing with an opening statement summarizing the problem of white-nose syndrome in the country.  He explained that the disease has reached bat populations in 18 states and it is estimated that 1 million bats have died.  More than $16 million dollars have been spent on measures to eradicate the disease, but it continues to spread.  Bats are critically important to the U.S. economy with a value of between $3.7 and $53 billion per annum because they consume between 660 and 1,300 tons of insects per year which would otherwise have to be killed using pesticides.  Acting Ranking Member Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) reiterated the public health, environmental, and economic importance of bats.  She noted that the disease was first documented in February 2006 and has managed to spread across the country.  Bordallo added that there are large gaps in our understanding of white-nose syndrome.

Gabriela Chavarria of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service testified about our current understanding of white-nose syndrome.  She explained that 80% to 100% of bats die in affected populations and the disease can now be found from Canada to Tennessee. The spread of the disease may be due to human activity in caves.  The United States Geological Survey is responsible for conducting much of the research on white-nose syndrome.  Jim Peña of the United States Forest Service explained that decreasing bat populations hurt forest and grassland ecosystems due to their important role as pollinators and insect consumers.  He reiterated that this makes them critical to agriculture by decreasing the need for pesticides.  John Gassett of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources provided examples of how white-nose syndrome has affected Kentucky, a state known for its large number of caves and caverns.  Earlier this year his organization made the decision to cancel a caving event that usually attracts around 900 people, which had a detrimental economic impact on the surrounding community.  The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources implemented an educational campaign in which they sent 80 letters to landowners suggesting that they close the caves on their private property and all but 3 landowners complied.  He concluded by stating that congressional support is critical in solving the problem, particularly through research funding .

Nina Fascione, the executive director of Bat Conservation International, stressed that bats are critical to the production of corn, potatoes and cotton and that the agricultural industry will see major impacts in the next 3 to 5 years.  Stopping white-nose syndrome, she added, will offset significant future costs that would result from the drastic decline in the nation’s bat populations.  Peter Youngbaer of the National Speleological Society provided a different perspective on the issue, claiming that not a single case of white-nose syndrome has been traced back to humans. He explained that different species of bats and bats living in different climates are affected differently.  He concluded that closing caves is not necessary and that too much money has been spent on bureaucracy related to cave closures and not enough on science. The final witness, Justin Boyles of the University of Tennessee, stated that bats are arguably the most important non-domestic mammal in the United States and that the problem will only be solved through increased understanding of the syndrome and its sources.

Fleming began the question and answer session by inquiring how white-nose syndrome kills bats.  Blehert explained how the fungus enters the skin tissues of bats, particularly the wings.  He noted that if the disease continues to spread our bat populations will become much more homogeneous, similar to those in Europe.  Fleming asked if there have been any attempts at spraying an antifungal film in caves.  Blehert responded that it might be possible but that it this could be dangerous to humans.  Fleming asked if there was any predator for the fungus and  Blehert responded that there probably is, but nothing has been described yet that would be effective in killing the fungus.

Bordallo asked if there is any scientific basis for the cave closures.  Blehert responded that bats spread the disease so cave closures cannot be the only method of combating it.  Boradallo inquired about the cooperation of private cave owners in closing caves.  Gassett explained that cave owners in Kentucky were very cooperative while Blehert added that cooperation in different states has varied.  Youngbaer explained that the majority of caves are on private lands and unless endangered species are present in these caves the government can only recommend that private caves be closed.  He concluded that closing caves on public lands simply does not work because public caves account for such a small percentage of all caves.

Representative Rob Wittman (R-VA) inquired about the success of the Smithsonian project aimed at saving the endangered Virginia big eared bats from white-nose syndrome. Peña responded that two of the bats in the program were still alive, which he cautiously saw as successful.

Fleming asked if there is a treatment for clothing and other items taken into caves that visitors could be educated to use to prevent the spread of the disease between caves. Though he said earlier that no evidence exists to blame humans for spreading the disease, Youngbaer responded that the National Speleological Society has educated thousands of youth on the importance of washing all clothes and other items taken into caves as a precautionary measure.  However, he noted that this impact is limited to organized cave visits, while most caving occurs informally or on private property. 

Bordallo asked why there was concern about the disease if some bat species remain unaffected.  Boyles explained that the bats that remain unaffected are from uncommon species while the most prevalent species of bat, the little brown bat, has been greatly impacted.  Bordallo inquired if there are other animals that could fill the role of bats in eating insects.  Boyles responded that there is not a natural alternative to bats.  Bordallo asked if there are caves where bats are the main attraction.  Fascione responded that there are definitely many caves in which this is the case and the small business owners of commercial caves will be negatively impacted if their bats die off.

Written testimony, text of the legislation, opening remarks and an archived webcast is available from the subcommittee hearing summary page.

-LMH

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Hearing on "Environmental Protection Agency Fiscal Year 2012 Budget"
March 2, 2011

Witnesses
The Honorable Lisa Jackson
Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Agency

Committee Members Present
Barbara Boxer, Chair (D-CA)
James Inhofe, Ranking Member (R-OK)
John Barrasso (R-WY)
Bernard Sanders (D-VT)
Tom Udall (D-NM)
Mike Johanns (R-NE)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Ben Cardin (D-MD)
John Boozman (R-AR)

Weighing in on the costs versus the benefits of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on March 2, 2011 to discuss the fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request for the agency.

Saying “it hurts my heart” to see the $1.3 billion cut proposed for EPA, Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) acknowledged that the decrease is necessary and responsible given the tough economic times. She said that, despite the cuts, President Obama’s budget request allows EPA to continue to protect public health by keeping the country’s air and water clean. On the other hand, the House-passed long term continuing resolution for FY 2011 that would cut EPA’s budget by 30 percent would “force communities to bear the burden of more pollution in our air and water,” Boxer warned.

Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) expressed his disappointment with EPA’s budget request, calling it a “fiscal bait and switch.” Almost all of the $1.3 billion in proposed cuts comes from decreases to three water programs that have strong bipartisan support, he said, including $947 million from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) that helps states supply clean drinking water. “You can bet these cuts will be restored,” he predicted, telling Lisa Jackson that EPA should work to find more responsible and politically realistic cuts. Inhofe called for eliminating funding for EPA’s greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations, mentioning his draft bill that would prevent EPA from regulating carbon and GHG emissions.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson discussed the key priorities expressed in the FY 2012 budget request, including responding to climate change by improving air quality, continuing to protect America’s waters, enhancing chemical safety with chemical hazard and risk assessments and maintaining a strong science foundation. She said that given the fiscal restraint, she accepts the proposed cuts, but without enough support from Congress, EPA cannot fulfill its responsibility to protect Americans from pollution and toxic materials.

Argument focused on whether the new GHG regulations EPA enacted in January and any other future regulations would hinder or help economic growth and activity. Jackson cited that in 2010, the Clean Air Act (CAA) prevented 160,000 premature deaths, 86,000 hospital visits and 13 million lost work days. According to reports, the health benefits of the CAA are between $30 and $40 for every $1 spent. Hearing these figures, Chairman Boxer exclaimed “give me a break,” to claims that the CAA is costing people. On the other hand, John Barrasso (R-WY) said that the situation created by the carbon regulations “may be a regulator’s dream, but it is a small business owner’s nightmare.” Senator Inhofe urged Jackson to analyze the cumulative effects of EPA’s regulations. Jackson added that since the implementation of the CAA, America has grown to have the world’s leading air pollution control industry and that the industry adds to the country’s trade surplus by exporting equipment to countries such as China.

Others stated that EPA has no authority to regulate GHG altogether. Only Congress should be able to, according to Inhofe, and it has shown no willingness to do so. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) argued that the 2007 Supreme Court decision allowing EPA to regulate GHG under the CAA following a positive endangerment finding of carbon dioxide settled the matter and gives EPA the right to enforce rules on carbon dioxide and other GHG. Inhofe, Barrasso and other members of the committee doubted the validity of claims that climate change is occurring and is due to man-made activity. In response, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), Chairman Boxer and Jackson joined Bernard Sanders (D-VT) in explaining that the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community is that global warming exists and that it is largely man-made. Barrasso noted in his opening statement that in the 1970s a handful of scientists were predicting global cooling, comparing their warnings to the global warming “doomsday predictions” of today. Udall responded that there was no scientific consensus surrounding the global cooling predictions of the 1970’s as there is today in regards to climate change.

Several members expressed their concern about the cuts to the DWSRF, and Jackson admitted that the decrease was a “tough choice.” Senator Sanders and Senator Sheldon urged EPA to give attention to the poor state of the country’s aging water infrastructure. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) mentioned that a cut to EPA funding as large as 30 percent would further lessen EPA’s ability to offer resources and support to states, who would then end up bearing the burden of less funding.

Senator John Boozman (R-AR) asked whether EPA is planning on setting a total maximum daily pollution load for the Mississippi River, mentioning such regulation would be complicated given that nutrient loading from sources such as runoff is nonpoint source pollution. Jackson acknowledged the concerns, adding it is an important regional issue that transcends state boundaries, but she said EPA does not have plans to set a limit.

Testimony from the chair, ranking member and witness, as well as an archived webcast, can be found here.

-DLT

House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power
Hearing on "H.R. ___: the Energy and Tax Prevention Act of 2011"

February 9, 2011

Witnesses
Panel 1
The Honorable James Inhofe
U.S. Senator, State of Oklahoma

Panel 2
Ms. Lisa Jackson
Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency

Panel 3
Mr. Greg Abbott
Attorney General, State of Texas
Mr. Harry C. Alford
President & CEO, National Black Chamber of Commerce
Mr. Steve Rowlan
General Manager, Environmental Affairs, Nucor Corporation
Mr. James Pearce
Director of Manufacturing, FMC Corporation
Mr. Steve Cousins
Vice President, Lions Oil Company
Mr. Lonnie N. Carter
President and CEO, Santee Cooper
Ms. Betsey Blaisdell
Senior Manager of Environmental Stewardship, The Timberland Company

Panel 4
Mr. Peter S. Glaser
Partner, Troutman Sanders LLP
Dr. Margo Thorning
Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, American Council for Capital Formation
Mr. Philip Nelson
President, Illinois Farm Bureau
Mr. Fred T. Harnack
General Manager, Environmental Affairs, US Steel Corporation
Mr. James N. Goldstene
Executive Officer, California Air Resources Board
Dr. Lynn R. Goldman
American Public Health Association

Subcommittee Members Present
Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Chair
Bobby Rush (D-IL), Ranking Member
Fred Upton (R-MI)
Joe Barton (R-TX)
Henry Waxman (D-CA)
Jay Inslee (D-WA)
John Sullivan (R-OK)
Edward Markey (D-MA)
Greg Walden (R-OR)
Lois Capps (D-CA)
Lee Terry (R-NE)
Gene Green (D-TX)
Eliot Engel (D-NY)
Steve Scalise (R-LA)
Michael Doyle (D-PA)
Pete Olson (R-TX)
Jim Matheson (D-UT)
David McKinley (R-WV)
Cory Gardner (R-CO)
John Shimkus (R-IL)
Michael Burgess (R-TX)
John Dingell (D-MI)

Setting the stage for a showdown between one of the most vocal climate change skeptics and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator trying to limit its effects, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a legislative hearing on “H.R. ___, the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011” on February 9, 2011 to discuss legislation that attempts to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

In January 2011 EPA enacted new rules to regulate GHG emissions from the largest stationary sources, such as power plants and refineries. Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-MI) introduced draft legislation called the “Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011” on February 2. The bill has not been officially submitted to Congress so the draft does not have a bill number yet.  Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) is a cosponsor of the bill. The act would add new sections to the CAA that would expressly define GHG to be excluded from regulation; prohibit EPA from regulating GHG due to climate change concerns; and clarify that GHG do not qualify as air pollutants under the CAA.

Chairman Whitfield said that the proposed act will “restore the proper balance” in government in regards to regulating GHG in his opening statement. He argued that “Congress has made its will crystal clear on this issue,” and mentioned that it declined to sign the Kyoto protocol in 1997 and failed to pass a cap and trade bill on emissions in the 111th Congress. Despite these actions, he said, EPA and the courts are “pushing the United States down a path that in my opinion will cost jobs and make us less competitive in the global market place.”

“I really have a bone to pick,” announced Ranking Member Bobby Rush (D-IL) in his opening remarks. The majority party resisted inviting Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and only did so after much persuasion, he claimed. Rush expressed his disapproval of the act, saying it would take away EPA’s authority under the CAA to preserve environmental quality, protect human health and promote energy efficiency. Furthermore, it would overturn a 2007 Supreme Court decision that said carbon dioxide qualifies as an air pollutant under the CAA and that EPA has the right to regulate carbon dioxide under the CAA if it made an endangerment finding.

Chairman Upton described the EPA regulations as an attempt to achieve the goals of a cap and trade program through different methods. He expressed concern that the EPA’s new regulations will reduce jobs and burden industry, making fossil fuels expensive. He claimed that his draft legislation will “protect jobs and preserve the intent of the Clean Air Act” as states could continue to regulate without national standards.

Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Committee, was extremely concerned with the legislation’s lack of regard for science. The act would overturn the endangerment finding by EPA with support from the National Science Foundation and essentially says that carbon emissions are not a threat to public health or welfare, he said. “Mr. Chairman, you and the new Republican majority have a lot of power to write our nation’s laws, but you do not have the power to rewrite the laws of nature,” he exclaimed. “History will not judge this Committee kindly if we become the last bastion of the polluter and the science-denier,” Waxman predicted.

Inhofe’s testimony focused on his claim that the science of global warming, climate change, and the human-induced causes is mixed. “This scandal could very well be the greatest scandal in science,” he said. Regardless of whether climate change is proven, the regulations would not affect overall global carbon dioxide levels, he stipulated. The regulations would cost billions of dollars a year, destroy jobs and make fossil fuels more expensive, negatively affecting America’s economy, according to Inhofe. “We have to run this machine called America, and we can’t do it without fossil fuels,” he said.

Waxman described the position of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that states that “climate change is occurring and is caused largely by human activities” and listed several other scientific societies, including the American Geophysical Union (AGU), that echo this stance. He said that 13 federal agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Defense (DOD) have said that climate change is largely human induced. After mentioning that Inhofe is an economist and not a scientist by trade, Waxman said that the subcommittee should hold hearings on the science behind the legislation before it is introduced.

Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) supported Waxman’s statements. “We are not listening to the scientists,” he cautioned. The NSF, members of the Intergovernmental  Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), doctors and other medically trained scientific professionals are warning that climate change poses a real health problem, he said.

Lisa Jackson described the legislation as part of a broader effort in Congress to delay, weaken or limit actions under the CAA. The CAA saves lives, prevents medical visits, decreases cases of respiratory illnesses, and lessens the number of sick days employees take, according to Jackson. The NAS and 18 leading societies have determined climate change to be largely caused by human activity, and the bill would repeal that scientific finding, she said. A report released by the University of Massachusetts found that the regulations would create 1.5 million jobs over the next five years. Jackson cited several companies’ approval of the regulations and said they would promote oil savings through efficiency.

Each side had their different arguments concerning the possible effects of the regulations. Those that support the draft legislation say the additional burden will cause job loss. Upton cited findings that Michigan would lose jobs and GDP because of the regulations and said he is worried about net decrease in jobs and outsourcing because of increased manufacturing costs. On the other hand, Ms. Jackson cited that over the time the CAA has been in effect, pollution has decreased 60% and the economy has grown 200%. Others claimed the push for efficiency could spark innovation and then construction and utility jobs. It is possible to grow the economy in the midst of regulations, according to Inslee. He expressed his faith in Americans to “innovate our way out of this pickle.”
Proponents of the draft bill argue that it does not change the overall intent of the CAA and that EPA was never intended to regulate GHG. Joe Barton (R-TX) went over the six criteria pollutants named in the CAA and said that none of them are affected by the proposed act. A few members said that Congress has the jurisdiction to regulate GHG. Congress has an obligation to clarify what the CAA regulates, said Barton. “I share your concern with carbon” but regulation needs to be done on the legislative side, said Representative Green.

Other supporters of the bill were worried about the complications it could cause by allowing multiple entities at the state and national level to regulate GHG. “You’re going to have a holy complicated mess,” said Representative John Dingell (D-MI).

Opponents of the legislation say that the bill ignores the science and tries to interfere with what is widely accepted among scientists all over the world: that climate change is occurring and that it is largely caused by human activity.

Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) posed another argument against the legislation. The bill would bar EPA from taking further action to reduce oil usage and therefore reduce demand, he said. In essence, the bill could actually increase dependence on foreign oil in the U.S., according to Markey.

An archived webcast, testimony from the witnesses and committee members and other information can be found here.

-DLT

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Hearing on the National Oil Spill Commission Report
January 26, 2011

Witnesses
The Honorable Bob Graham
Co-Chair, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling
The Honorable William K. Reilly
Co-Chair, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

Committee Members Present
Jeff Bingaman, Chairman (D-NM)
Lisa Murkowski, Ranking Member (R-AK)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)
John Barrasso (R-WY)
Mark Udall (D-CO)
Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on January 26, 2011 to review the final report by the National Oil Spill Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The Oil Spill Commission (OSC) released Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling on January 11, 2011.

In his opening statement, Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) thanked the committee for their efforts. He addressed the tragic nature of the oil spill and the need to address the aftermath, saying “this is not just a Louisiana problem. This is America’s problem.” While he stressed the importance of enhancing safety systems, Bingaman said that “no one can doubt the need to continue to produce domestic oil and gas.”

Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) began her statement announcing a goal for the committee to ensure three things: that no victim of a spill ever goes uncompensated; that taxpayers are never held responsible for a company’s damages; and that choices are made to preserve and promote the offshore industry. She discussed the negative impact of the administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling on industry workers and the economy, noting that the economies of Louisiana and Alaska are similarly dependent on tourism, the seafood industry and oil and gas development.

OSC Co-Chair Bob Graham went over the commission’s findings regarding response and containment efforts, emphasizing the overall lack of preparedness from the industry and the government, and discussed suggestions for long-term restoration of the Gulf of Mexico. Graham said Congress should administer eighty percent of the fees collected from Clean Water Act penalties for Gulf restoration. “These resources...belong to all of us. They belong to the American people,” said Graham.

Fellow Co-Chair William Reilly discussed the proposed restructuring of the Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and the safety suggestions from the commission, including the creation of an industry-run safety agency. He spoke of the need for international agreements and discussions on offshore safety with countries like Mexico and Cuba, who work in the Gulf, and Russia and Denmark, who plan to drill in the Arctic.

Though the commission recommends funding the additional regulatory procedures with portions of fees that drilling companies pay for federal leases and from new fees that could be imposed, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) cautioned against allocating more fees. She suggested that instead funds be taken from the $7 billion a year the industry contributes to the treasury in royalties, bonuses and severance taxes.

Several senators expressed concern about the ability to have a productive oil and gas offshore drilling industry in the midst of stricter standards and new requirements. Landrieu lamented that no deepwater drilling permits have been issued since the accident and stressed the issue of “getting people back to work.” Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Mark Udall (D-CO) declared their disapproval of a moratorium on offshore drilling. “Shutting down oil and gas operations would be a wrong choice,” said Barrasso. Reilly assured the committee that the commission is against a blanket moratorium, supports investing in Arctic development and understands the importance of the oil and gas industry. “We vitally need the resources of offshore oil and gas,” he said.

Graham highlighted the fact that the commission wants future decisions to be “rooted in the best science.” Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) asked how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will give input on environmental considerations concerning leasing decisions. Graham explained that with past onshore and shallow water drilling projects, the areas have been largely well understood, but in deepwater, the geology and pressure can vary from place to place significantly. NOAA can help “bring to bear the best science within and outside the government to make decisions”, according to Graham. In response to Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-NH) comments on oil spill research, the witnesses discussed a few areas that should be explored. Instead of undertaking ‘crisis research’, ‘anticipatory research’ focusing on what information will be needed five to ten years from now should be the goal, according to Graham. Such unknowns that need clarifying are the fate of dispersants, especially in cold Arctic waters, and the impacts of the spill on Gulf wildlife such as blue fin tuna.

The witnesses urged that it would be a shame to let years go by without acheiving progress in research, restoration and technology development. Udall agreed that the tragedy could be looked at as an opportunity to spur restoration in the Gulf and follow up on research ideas and said he plans to introduce legislation to expand research and development in the federal and private realms.

Testimony from the chair, ranking member and panelists can be found here, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing. 

-DLT

House Committee on Natural Resources Hearing on the National Oil Spill Commission Report
January 26, 2011

Witnesses
The Honorable Bob Graham
Co-Chair, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling
The Honorable William K. Reilly
Co-Chair, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

Committee Members Present
Doc Hastings, Chairman (R-WA)
Edward Markey, Ranking Member (D-MA)
John Fleming (R-LA)
Donna Christensen (D-VI)
Steve Southerland (R-FL)
Jeff Denham (R-CA)
Henry E. Brown, Jr. (R-SC)
John Sarbanes (D-MD)
Mike Coffman (R-CO)
Ben Lujan (D-NM)
Tom McClintock (R-CA)
Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN)
Dan Boren (D-OK)
Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)
Doug Lamborn (R-CO)
Frank Pallone (D-NJ)
Don Young (R-AK)
Jeff Landry (R-LA)
David Rivera (R-FL)
Glenn Thompson (R-PA)

The House Committee on Natural Resources held a full committee oversight hearing on "The Final Report from the President's National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling" on January 26, 2011. The National Oil Spill Commission (OSC) relased their final report, Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling, on January 11, 2011.

Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) focused on the issue of domestic oil and gas production and its effect on job creation and national security in his opening statement. “The right response to this spill is to focus on making drilling safe, not making it impossible,” he said. Hastings warned that shutting down America’s oil and gas drilling is not the best way to react to the disaster. He said that the committee’s responses to the spill can determine whether the offshore industry can continue to produce “American-made energy” or if the country will “lock up its resources” and increase its dependence on foreign oil.

In his opening statement, Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) stressed that he and the committee must “assess the lessons to be learned with open minds, and commit ourselves to fundamental reform with firm resolve.” He explained that it is a time for bold reforms and that the committee must not miss the opportunity for substantial change.

William Reilly, co-chair of OSC, reviewed the safety and regulatory reforms suggested by the commission. He described the recommended independent safety agency and restructuring of the Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement and mentioned the need for international discussion on offshore drilling standards in the Gulf and Arctic with other countries. Reilly explained that the funding needed for reforms is small compared to oil and gas revenues and the cost of the disaster.

OSC co-chair Bob Graham described the overall failure by BP and the federal government to effectively respond to the spill, saying neither group was prepared nor equipped. He stated the commission’s suggestion that Congress provide adequate and sustained funding for oil spill response and research. He charged Congress with the responsibility to dedicate 80 percent of the fines collected for Clean Water Act penalties to Gulf restoration, explaining that since offshore drilling is conducted on public lands, the government acts as landlord and must protect the assets that belong to all Americans.

Several representatives complained that the commission did not wait for test results on the failed blow-out preventer from the Macondo well to publish their report. Reilly defended the commission’s decision and explained that the report describes several other errors and mistakes that led to the accident. “We know enough. We know what happened,” he said.

Democrats and Republicans from states with economies heavily reliant on the oil and gas industry expressed concern over avoiding a moratorium and returning employees to work. “I’m worried about this country,” said Don Young (R-AK) in regards to the ability to develop domestic fossil fuel sources. Reilly assured him that the commission specifically recommends against a drilling moratorium in Alaska, but that research should be done to increase understanding of the area. “In respect to oil and gas, we need the resource,” he said. John Fleming (R-LA) explained that Louisiana has lost jobs since the accident and asked if additional legislation will slow the offshore permitting process. The primary reason for current issuing delays is that drilling companies have not met standards incorporated into permit applications, said Graham. Proper funding is the only way to make progress on the permitting and regulating processes, according to Reilly.

A few representatives addressed the issue of company liability following a spill. Dan Boren (D-OK) asked if the commission had investigated if smaller drilling companies will have difficulty getting insurance plans if there is no cap on liability. The commission has suggested raising the maximum value a company would be required to pay after a spill, but they avoided setting an amount because they did not want to inhibit small business operations and did not consider themselves experts in that category, said the co-chairs.

Graham and Reilly mentioned several times that offshore drilling, compared to onshore and shallow water drilling, is in riskier and less understood areas, with greater pressure and more complex geology. Basic research must be done in preparation for disasters instead of after catastrophe stikes, said Graham. Both witnesses stressed the fact that improvements must be made on spill and containment technologies, noting that virtually no advancement has been achieved in that field since the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill.

Testimony from the chair, ranking member and panelists can be found here, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing. 

-DLT

 

Contributed by Geoscience Policy Staff; Dana Thomas, AAPG/AGI Spring 2011 Intern; Lauren Herwehe, AIPG/AGI Summer 2011 Intern; Vicki Bierwirth, AIPG/AGI Summer 2011 Intern; Erin Camp, AAPG/AGI Fall Intern; Aaron Rodriguez, AAPG/AGI Spring 2012 Intern; Krista Rybacki, AIPG/AGI Summer 2012 Intern; and Nell Hoagland, AIPG/AGI Summer 2012 Intern.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.

Last updated July 13, 2012