Senate Environment and Public Works Full Committee Oversight Hearing on the Implementation of MAP-21’s TIFIA Program Enhancements
Witnesses (with links to opening statements):
On July 24, 2013 the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a full committee oversight hearing on the implementation of Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which became law in 2012 and which authorizes increased funding for Transportation Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program enhancements. The TIFIA program provides Federal credit assistance to qualified surface transportation projects, and MAP-21 greatly increases funding available for the program, authorizing $750 million for fiscal year (FY) 2013 and $1 billion for FY 2014. Additionally, MAP-21 calls for a number of program changes, which include a rolling application process for TIFIA financing, 10 percent of funding set-aside for rural projects, and an increase in the share of eligible project costs that TIFIA may support. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the implementation of these dramatic changes.
In her opening statement, Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) spoke about the importance of transportation infrastructure and the positive impacts of TIFIA since its inception in 1999. She also underlined the benefits of the program, citing figures indicating that “$1 in government funding would make $30 of infrastructure possible.” She went on to applaud the increased funds made available for the TIFIA program, stating that they have exceeded funding in recent years. Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA) reiterated Chairwoman Boxer’s statements on the importance of transportation infrastructure, saying that “transportation is fundamental to connect communities and stimulate economic growth.” Senator Vitter also praised TIFIA, calling it an “essential tool” for innovation and construction. Both the Chairwoman and Ranking Member indicated to the first witness, newly confirmed Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, that they were looking forward to working with him.
Secretary Foxx echoed the Senators’ sentiments. He explained that “mayors and governors are looking to get more out of taxpayers’ dollars while making investments for the future, and TIFIA is a powerful tool” that makes funding available for many projects. The Secretary also touched on the recent increase in TIFIA applications, citing that $12-15 billion in requests for TIFIA assistance had been made in the last two years, and that $15.5 billion in requests were made this year alone. Secretary Foxx also highlighted the importance of transparency, accountability, and oversight in the application and selection process.
The second panel of witnesses was comprised of members of both the public and private sector. Each witness praised TIFIA and MAP-21, with Jeff Bass calling MAP-21 “the most significant positive change in federal surface transportation policy in the last 20 years” and Arthur Leahy stating that TIFIA “helps our transportation dollars go further.” James Roberts called TIFIA an “important tool” and said that the MAP-21 expansion comes at a very necessary time for national transportation infrastructure, and D.J. Gribbin reiterated the beneficial aspects of TIFIA and MAP-21 expansion. The panel also called for improved transparency in the selection process, and for streamlining the application process.
Questions from the members for both panels focused on the streamlining the selection process for projects and transparency in the selection process. Several members, especially Senator Vitter, expressed concern that the expansion of TIFIA and subsequent buildup of applications in the pipeline represented a trend toward subjective decisions on projects, or “picking winners” rather than natural buildup as the program expands. Secretary Foxx, as well as James Bass and Arthur Leahy, assured the Senator that the buildup was a result of the recent expansion of the program, and that the rolling application process installed by MAP-21 would be the way the projects would be selected in the future. Chairwoman Boxer asked the panel if the MAP-21 expansion had been a change for the better, to which Bass replied that it had indeed, and that the an increase in applications and innovation had been seen as a result. Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE) asked the panel to each give a quick one-minute closing statement, and the responses from each panel member generally referred to TIFIA as very useful and MAP-21 as an overtly positive change, while also calling for streamlining the process and improved transparency in application and selection.
Witness testimony, as well as an archived video of the hearing, are available on the Committee on Environment and Public Works website.
Witnesses (with links to opening statements):
Committee Members Present (with links to opening statements):
On June 11, 2013, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing on “America’s Helium Supply: Options for Producing more Helium from Federal Lands.” The subcommittee heard testimony regarding the current and future U.S. demand for helium, the future of U.S. helium supplies after the closure of the Federal Helium Reserve, and the helium production potential from federal lands. The Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act, H.R. 527, recently passed through the House with bipartisan support, and hopes to extend the life of the Federal Helium Reserve which is currently set to close at the end of current fiscal year.
The Federal Helium Reserve, instituted in 1960 by the United States Bureau of Mines and currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is a stockpile of helium that provides the U.S. with 50 percent of its helium supply. It has about five to seven years of helium remaining at current extraction rates.
Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) began the hearing by emphasizing the importance of helium in the U.S. He underscored the necessity of developing domestic federal sources of helium, as the current price of helium acts as a deterrent for development on private lands. Furthermore, Lamborn explained, relying on foreign sources for helium, such as Russia or Argentina, makes the United States vulnerable to supply disruptions.
Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and Full Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) discussed the importance of private development to ensure a steady supply of helium to the U.S. in order to avoid foreign dependency. Lowenthal addressed ongoing and pending private helium operations in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, and stated that the Department of the Interior needed to review regulations on helium extraction in order to ensure the environmental impacts of helium mining are properly managed.
Panelists represented government, research, and private sector interests in America’s domestic helium supply. Tim Spisak, Deputy Assistant Director of Minerals and Realty Management at the BLM, agreed that Congress should explore helium production beyond the scope of the Federal Helium Reserve because extending the life of the reserve will only provide a short-term solution.
The private sector witnesses supported the helium legislation because it would help to expedite the permitting process. Scott Gutberlet, VP of Technical & Commercial Services for QEP Resources Inc., explained that since helium is extracted through drilling it is subject to all acts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which can delay the permitting process up to a few years, even in areas where natural gas drilling is already occurring. Gutberlet asked the subcommittee to find ways to expedite this process without hindering NEPA. Bo Seers, President of Weil Helium LLC, echoed this view, saying that even in areas that are drilled specifically for helium they still need to go through the same processes as natural gas wells. Seers said that regulations specifically designed for helium extraction are needed in order to expedite this process.
Ramesh R. Bhave, Director of the Inorganic Membrane Technology Laboratory Physical Chemistry of Materials Group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, spoke about new technologies which open new areas and reduce costs of helium production. Bhave discussed new potential in “low-grade” fields, which can have large quantities of helium at low concentrations, which are not currently economically viable. New technology, Bhave says, may provide a means of accessing this helium and is expected to be available for commercial use by 2020. However, Matt Cartwright (D-PA) pointed out that without funding from the Department of Energy this project will not likely be completed.
Questions focused largely on helium permitting regulations. Bill Flores (R-TX) asked if the current regulations are up to date for modern day helium extraction. Spisak answered that current regulations are set up for large-scale operations and are satisfactory in that regard; however, as small-scale operations begin to develop and new technologies emerge new regulations will need to be worked out. Flores and Lowenthal asked several questions regarding the permitting of helium. Spisak said that the BLM is currently working to develop a permitting framework for both cases where helium is the primary or secondary target. Many of the problems, Spisak said, revolved around either obtaining a natural gas lease or working with the current natural gas lessee.
Opening statements and witness testimony, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing, are available from the committee website.
Witnesses (with links to opening statements):
Committee Members Present (with links to opening statements):
On June 13, 2013, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing on mining in America. The hearing focused on mining fees and royalties, the withdrawal of certain lands from new mining claims, and Good Samaritan legislation for the cleanup of abandoned mine lands (AMLs).
In their opening remarks, Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) expressed interest in reforming the 1872 Mining Law. Lamborn was concerned primarily with the withdrawal of federal lands from new mining claims, the impact of cost recovery regulations for industry, and the slow pace of permitting. He stated that the Behre Dolbear report, which provides information on whether countries’ policies and business conditions are favorable to mining sector growth, has consistently ranked the United States as one of the countries with the most numerous permitting delays. In his opening remarks, DeFazio highlighted the importance of ensuring sufficient funding for the cleanup of AMLs. He noted that 12 western states require mining companies to pay royalties for mining on state lands and suggested that the federal government follow the states’ lead and charge royalties that could then be used to clean up abandoned mine lands.
Witnesses for the hearing were broken into two panels. On the first panel, BLM Acting Deputy Director Jamie Connell gave an overview of the BLM’s work to oversee mining on federal lands and to remediate abandoned mines. She highlighted legislative proposals in the President’s FY 2014 budget that would institute royalties for mining on federal lands and levy a fee on current mining operations to pay for the cleanup of AMLs.
Questions for Connell centered on the BLM’s Abandoned Mine Lands program, the length of the permitting process, and the withdrawal of some federal lands from new mining claims. DeFazio and Dan Benishek (R-MI) emphasized the need for a reliable bonding program to ensure that funds are available for the restoration of current mine sites.
Lamborn requested an explanation of the lengthy 7-10 year timespan required to permit a mine, and Connell responded that mining operations are complex and require public participation and environmental analysis. DeFazio added that permit processing times have decreased in recent years and indicated that the Behre Dolbear report ranks the US as the 6th most attractive country for mining investment overall, despite the country’s low ranking on permitting delays.
Representatives also raised questions about the withdrawal of public lands near the Grand Canyon from new mining claims. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) emphasized the importance of the withdrawal in protecting a water supply needed by 25 million Americans. However, Kevin Cramer (R-ND) responded that there is no evidence that water contamination due to mining has occurred in the withdrawal area. He further opined that mining companies in the area whose claims are found invalid should be compensated.
Witness testimony on the second panel focused on mining fees and royalties as well as the need for Good Samaritan legislation for abandoned mine cleanup.
Questions centered on royalties and Good Samaritan legislation, and returned to the topic of withdrawn lands. Grijalva and Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) raised the question of whether it was fair to U.S. taxpayers for hardrock mining companies to mine public land “for free” without paying royalties, and Lauren Pagel, Policy Director of Earthworks, indicated that getting tax breaks without paying royalties is akin to a “double dip.” In response, Harold Roberts, Chief Operating Officer of Energy Fuels Resources Corp., asserted that mining companies pay taxes and create jobs, putting money into the local economy.
The area of greatest consensus was the need for improved Good Samaritan legislation, for which many of the representatives and witnesses voiced their support. Although Steve Moyer, Vice President of Government Affairs for Trout Unlimited, indicated his organization’s preference for the Good Samaritan bill introduced in 2009 by Senator Mark Udall (S. 1777, 111th Congress) over the bill introduced by Lamborn (H.R. 3203, 111th Congress), Moyer, Roberts, and Pagel showed an openness to working with legislators to craft effective legislation.
Opening statements and witness testimony, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing, is available from the committee website.
Committee Members Present:
On February 14, 2013, the House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing to receive testimony evaluating domestic helium demand and the role and future of the Federal Helium Reserve in the domestic market. They examined the potential impacts of closing the Reserve on scientific, technical, medical, and defense industries and discussed the details of the bipartisan bill titled the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act (H.R. 527). Developed by Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA), H.R. 527 will keep the Reserve open until nearly all the helium is sold, raise prices closer to market value, open the sale of helium to more than just a few companies by implementing a semiannual auction, improve transparency, and prevent supply disruptions. The bill will require studies of international and domestic helium resources as well as the development of domestic and global helium demand forecasts, domestic helium use accounts, and assessments and research into the extraction and refining of the isotope helium-3 and the viability of creating a facility to separate the isotope helium-3.
During the question and answer section for the second panel, Aronson indicated that Brookhaven National Lab had experience helium shortages. Holt asked if the Reserve should give “priority access for certain kinds of users” such as federal labs. Aronson expressed “hope [that the] priority access that federal users and federal grantees currently have…would continue.” Holt also brought up the fact that “we didn’t foresee” the new technology requiring helium and requested a prediction on the nature of future demands and the market’s ability to “address that demand.” Aronson stated, “I can’t tell you what the landscape of high-tech applications will be 20 years from now but I’m certain that the fundamental research that we’re doing will be necessary to get us there.” Liquid helium, he noted, is a necessary component for continued basic research including research into “technologies that could replace the need for liquid helium in cooling.”
The third panel was comprised of three witnesses from the helium distribution sector and three from the refining sector. The distributors were David Joyner, president of Air Liquide Helium America Inc.; Tom Thoman, division president of gases production at Airgas Inc.; and Kevin Lynch, senior vice president of specialty gases and helium at Matheson Tri-Gas. The refiners were Walter Nelson, director of sourcing and supply chain at Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.; Nick Haines, head of global helium source development at Linde North America; and Scott Kaltrider, vice president of business management and helium at Praxair, Inc. Distributors and refiners reacted to H.R. 527 with a mixture of approval for increased transparency and concern over the semiannual auction of the helium. Lynch noted that the auction “will create conditions of great uncertainty in terms of helium price and availability.” Nelson summed up the objections stating, “a 100 percent auction represents a major change from the status quo, and introduces tremendous risk for our customers. Today, helium customers know that helium will be delivered when they need it. In a 100 percent auction world, all bets are off…If [companies] could not know, from one half year to the next, where their helium would be coming from, they could not develop predictable business plans.”Opening statements, witness testimonies and an archived webcast of the hearing can be found on the Committee’s web site.
Contributed by Wilson Bonner, Geoscience Policy staff; Kimberley Corwin 2013 AAPG/AGI Spring Intern; Brittany Huhmann 2013 AIPG/AGI Summer Intern, Clinton Koch 2013 AIPG/AGI Summer Intern.
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Last updated on August 1, 2013