Committee Members Present
The Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies held a hearing on March 9 to discuss the fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request for the Department of the Interior (DOI).
Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) opened the hearing by acknowledging the important role DOI plays in preserving the country’s rich natural heritage. He voiced support for the proposed increases in funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF); the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat program; and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) included in the FY 2012 request.
Saying DOI and the committee must ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski questioned increases in the FY 2012 budget that come at the expense of cuts to other programs. She objected to the LWCF increase and to the proposal to impose fees on non-producing oil and gas leases, noting that in some cases oil and gas companies are waiting on government approval to begin production.
Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) stressed to Secretary Salazar the importance of expediting the reforms to offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. She told him she would gladly offer resources to help DOI process drilling permits faster, noting the need to “get people back to work” in the Gulf coast region.
Secretary Salazar testified that the FY 2012 budget request allows DOI to continue fulfilling its responsibilities while working to cut the country’s deficit. DOI’s request is essentially “a freeze budget,” said Salazar, and the department worked to find savings and efficiencies. He discussed the department’s energy, conservation and water management priorities.
A handful of questions focused on issues related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. DOI’s request includes increases for BOEMRE (formerly the Minerals Management Service) and for the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, which will be responsible for mineral revenue collection. The Secretary told Representative Roy Blunt (R-MO) that the funding will help DOI with permitting efforts and that he thinks it is possible to return production on the Outer Continental Shelf to pre-spill levels. Chairman Reed said he was “surprised” to see opposition within Congress for increasing fees on drilling companies that would help pay for inspection costs. Salazar agreed that he thinks the increases are “reasonable” and necessary.
Chairman Reed asked about the USGS Landsat program and why the responsibility for satellite launches is being transferred from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to USGS. According to Deputy Secretary David Hayes, the amended process would be similar to how weather satellite operations at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are managed; the agency that uses the data has launch responsibility. NASA would remain a partner for launching the satellites and would continue to fund the launches. The transfer aims to increase efficiency and organization.
Chairman Reed suggested that USGS may want to consider charging entities for access to images obtained from the Landsat satellites. The information gained from the remote sensing technology is central to all the USGS missions, including resource and water management and disaster response, said Hayes, and in 2010 public users downloaded 2.5 million scenes from Landsat satellites. The international benefit and access to knowledge the Landsat products provide far outweighs the potential costs that could be incurred, he argued.
Representative Blunt wanted comparisons of the 2012 budget request to enacted 2008 levels. The FY 2012 request is $12.2 billion. Deputy Assistant Secretary Pamela Haze answered that DOI was funded at $11.5 billion in 2008, $11.8 billion if supplemental funding is included. Secretary Salazar commented that from 2001-2008 funding for DOI may not have been appropriate, leading to “dysfunctional” government operations in some areas, particularly within the Minerals Management Service. He argued that Congress must help DOI increase funding to levels that enable DOI to do its job.
Members discussed DOI’s recent “Wild Lands” policy, deep water offshore wind energy permitting and the backlog of maintenance problems in crumbling tribal nation schools.
A webcast of the hearing and testimony from the witnesses can be found here.
Subcommittee Members Present
Committee Members Present
The House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies held a hearing on March 8, 2011 to discuss the fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request for the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).
Chairman Michael Simpson (R-ID) began the hearing by expressing his concern about recent conservation moves the department has taken, including the “Wild Lands” policy announced in December. He voiced opposition to the proposed increased funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) in the FY 2012 request. In the context of rising gasoline prices across the country, Simpson conveyed his unease with the department’s strategy for energy development and offshore drilling permitting.
After opening with a quote by conservationist and former U.S. president Teddy Roosevelt, Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA) applauded Secretary Ken Salazar for providing a “responsive” budget request for DOI. The request, he said, allows DOI to manage America’s public lands and fulfill its responsibility to Indian communities—missions that generate jobs, benefit the energy sector and protect the country’s natural heritage for future generations.
Full committee Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-WA) highlighted the difference between DOI’s budget request and the Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011 (H.R. 1) that the House passed in February, which he called “one of the most shortsighted bills” in history in regards to the environment. Calling it the “wrong economic policy,” Dicks said the bill would cut support for state and tribal lands, wetlands protection and climate change research and mitigation. He expressed support for increasing funding for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center, which partners with DOI’s Climate Science Centers and Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.
Secretary Salazar told the committee he hopes it can continue the bipartisan spirit and cooperation that has led to DOI progress and support in the past. DOI’s request for FY 2012 is essentially “a freeze budget,” said Salazar, and the department worked to find savings and efficiencies. He discussed the department’s energy, conservation and water management priorities.
Salazar explained the reorganization of the former Minerals Management Service into the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). BOEMRE will be divided into the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, responsible for resource development and leasing, and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which will enforce safety and environmental regulations. The Office of Natural Resources Revenue within DOI will handle mineral revenue collections.
Chairman Simpson pressed Salazar for information on permitting efforts for offshore drilling, reminding the committee that since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill last spring, DOI has issued one permit. Salazar said that while the outlook for permitting is good, DOI and industry have “significant work” to do before returning to production levels before the spill. “The last thing you’d want us to do is issue a permit that creates another Macondo situation,” he told Simpson.
A few members mentioned the need to amend royalty rates for hard rock mining and fossil fuel production on public lands. Ranking Member Moran and Representative Dicks said the royalty rate for mining is too low, and Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) agreed that the committee and DOI must do their part to make sure American taxpayers are receiving a “fair share” of resource development on federal lands. Secretary Salazar assured the members that DOI is taking steps to ensure this, and he said that DOI and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are reviewing the onshore and offshore drilling rates. Salazar noted the possibility of raising royalty rates for onshore drilling, which are lower than those for offshore operations and have not changed since 1920. The FY 2012 DOI budget request includes a proposal to institute a leasing program under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 for certain hard rock minerals that would subject entities to annual rental payments and a royalty of not less than 5 percent of the gross proceeds. However, Representative Ken Calvert (R-CA) suggested that insufficient revenue collection, not the rate value, may be the problem.
Concerned with possible negative environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing associated with natural gas drilling operations, Representative Hinchey asked Salazar if drilling companies should be required to disclose chemical information on the fluids they use. Salazar responded by saying that DOI understands “the future of natural gas is a positive one,” though he conceded it is important to know what is being injected underground. Having complete chemical data on fracking fluids, Salazar argued, would prevent pollution and its economic impacts. He said that the department will have a policy on public disclosure in the next few months and hopes that the industry will support disclosure. Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) asked the Secretary to use caution and argued against developing national regulatory standards. He explained that several states, including Oklahoma, have dealt with hydraulic fracturing for years and have developed their own regulatory practices that DOI could examine.
Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) questioned Salazar on the department’s decision to halt new uranium mining activities on federal lands near Grand Canyon National Park. She mentioned that the U.S. imports 90% of its uranium used for nuclear fuel. Salazar defended the move, explaining that while nuclear energy will be a part of the nation’s energy future, the mining operations pose a possible threat of irreparable harm to an area that supplies water resources to seven states.
Salazar received praise and criticism for the department’s “Wild Lands” policy and the proposed increase for the LWCF. The Secretary explained that any designation of lands as protected wilderness areas could eventually be changed, because only Congress can make a permanent decision. LWCF actions would focus not on buying new lands, said Salazar, but rather on acquiring inholdings, such as privately owned land within Grand Teton National Park.
Members touched on water supply issues in the west, strengthening border control on public lands and addressing the backlog of maintenance problems in crumbling tribal nation schools.
A webcast of the hearing and testimony from the witnesses can be found here.
Contributed by Linda Rowan and Wilson Bonner, Geoscience Policy Staff; and Dana Thomas, 2011 AAPG/AGI Spring Intern.
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Last updated on February 1, 2012