Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Obama asked to make ANWR a national monument

Environmental organizations think they have a swell idea to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s establishment: convincing US President Barack Obama to designate it a national monument.

The idea has been gathering momentum since early November. “Truly one of America’s greatest wild places, the Arctic Refuge contains a rich diversity of landscapes, wildlife and habitats – unparalleled in North America,” the Alaska Wilderness League and seven other organizations said on Nov. 19. “[Its] coastal plain hosts an amazing array of wildlife including polar bears, grizzly bears, musk oxen, wolverines, and more than a hundred thousand caribou. This ‘biological heart’ of the refuge is connected to the entire country, as well as to countries all around the world. Every year, birds that begin their lives on the coastal plain migrate to all 50 states and across six continents, before heading back to the Arctic where the cycle of life begins again.”

ANWR’s coastal plain also is where a substantial amount of oil and gas is waiting to be produced. If Obama chose to exercise his authority and designate ANWR a national monument, the action effectively would put those resources off-limits.

The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and similar national environmental organizations are asking people who support that goal to contact the White House. US Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and 24 of his colleagues reportedly sent the president a letter supporting the idea. Alaska’s two US senators felt otherwise.

"Attempts to lock up America's energy resources are misguided, and this particular one is not legal," Lisa Murkowski, a Republican and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking minority member, said on Nov. 22. "The coastal plain of ANWR holds valuable oil and natural gas reserves that are vital to our nation's energy security, which is why Congress designated it for oil exploration and included language in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to ensure no further ‘wilderness’ designations in Alaska. Instead of trying to lock up our resources, we should be developing them as part of a balanced energy plan that creates jobs and bolsters the sluggish economy."

“This is another misguided attempt to lock up ANWR by Sen. Lieberman and others who truly don’t understand its potential to help bring national and economic security to our country,” Democrat Mark Begich said on Nov. 19. “The vast majority of ANWR is already off limits to development, but Congress specifically set aside 1.5 million acres in the 1002 area for oil and gas exploration. It has enormous potential and should be part of a national energy plan for our country.”

Obama could go ahead and embrace the proposal to shore up his support in the environmental community. But in the hours before Thanksgiving arrives, the idea looks like a real turkey.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hastings wants to consolidate House energy responsibilities

Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the US House Natural Resources Committee’s ranking minority member who is in line to become chairman in January, is recommending consolidation of the House’s energy jurisdiction by moving the Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy responsibilities to a new Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“It advances our Republican all-of-the-above approach to energy,” he said in a Nov. 18 letter to House Republican Conference members. “The Natural Resources Committee currently oversees all energy development on federal lands and offshore: oil, natural gas, hydropower, wind, solar, coal, geothermal, uranium, minerals…everything. The Commerce Committee currently oversees the Department of Energy and general energy policy as it relates to oil, natural gas, nuclear, renewable, etc. Energy is currently divided in two halves – and this proposal would marry together our nation’s broad energy policy with the vast majority of America’s actual energy resources that are on our federal lands and offshore.”

It also would make the two committees’ power more level, Hastings argued. He called Energy and Commerce “a Goliath” which spawned both health-care reform and global climate change legislation, including a provision to establish a domestic carbon cap-and-trade program, in the current Congress. He said his proposal would enable both House committees to be more effective and achieve real oversight and legislative accomplishments. “It also aligns jurisdiction with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee – a simplification that advances our ability to ultimately achieve legislative successes,” he maintained.

Consolidating House energy jurisdiction into the Natural Resources Committee has been discussed for some time, Hastings said. “But this is the moment that a decision can be made to align the structure of the House toward creating a cohesive and comprehensive national energy policy that has the capability to spur real, long-term job creation and economic growth,” he declared. “Energy deserves the concentrated attention of a committee with full jurisdiction over such a sweeping issue.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

DEPA thinks gas vehicles bill is a bad idea

A bill to promote natural gas vehicles is one of the most frequently mentioned pieces of energy legislation for the 2010 congressional lame-duck session. It’s also a bad idea, the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance said on Nov. 11.

“We are all for CNG conversion. It’s a good technology and has been around for 20 years,” said Mike Cantrell, president of the Oklahoma City alliance of producers, royalty owners, oilfield service companies, and national and state independent oil and gas associations. “Where we draw the line is on the proposed method of payment.”

He said that S. 3815, as proposed, would raise the tax on each barrel of domestic and imported oil from 8¢ to 21¢ in order to fund the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

“Didn’t Americans just speak in the elections last week? We need to allow the marketplace to decide the next step,” Cantrell said. “This is absolutely not a decision that should be mandated by ‘big government’.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The House’s coming change in direction

That chill the Obama administration felt in Washington on Nov. 3 was more than a cold front approaching from the west. It was the realization that Republicans regained control of the US House in the previous day’s elections, and the direction of the Natural Resources and Energy and Commerce committees is going to change 180 degrees in January.

Expect Joe Barton (R-Tex.) to look more critically at proposals to manage global climate change than Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) did in his two years as Energy and Commerce Committee chairman. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) almost certainly will be more receptive as chairman to complaints by the Natural Resources Committee’s western Republican members that US Department of the Interior agency policies are stifling oil and gas development than Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) was.

Among Natural Resource subcommittees, Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) is in line to succeed Jim Costa (D-Calif.) as chairman of Energy and Mineral Resources. Costa lost his re-election bid, which is unfortunate. He tried to run the subcommittee reasonably while he was in charge and could have helped develop bipartisan legislation in the next Congress. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) won his re-election bid, which means he’ll be back not only as one of the more vocal Republicans on the full committee but also as chairman of the National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Subcommittee.

Stevan Pearce (R-NM) also will be returning after regaining his House seat which he vacated in 2008 for an unsuccessful bid to succeed retiring Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-NM). Pearce often acted as a one-man truth squad when he asked oil and gas opponents often embarrassing questions during hearings. He’s probably looking forward to doing so again. Democrat Martin Heinrich held onto New Mexico’s other House seat, which he won in 2006 when Tom Udall was elected Domenici’s successor.

Over at Energy and Commerce, Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is in line to succeed Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) as chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee. Markey also stands to lose his bully pulpit as chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming because House Republican leaders probably will dissolve it. It’s a safe bet that he’ll continue speaking out on climate issues, however.

Another significant change will take place at the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where ranking minority member Darrell E. Issa (R-Calif.) is in line to succeed Adolphus Towns (D-NY) as chairman. Issa was a bulldog when he demanded a fuller accounting by what was then the US Minerals Management Service in 2005 and 2006 of alleged offshore oil and gas royalty underpayments. Many expect him to launch several investigations once he takes over in January.

“Tonight was a referendum on the Obama agenda and the American people rejected it,” he said late on election night. “The American people have sent a clear and direct message to Washington that they want less spending, limited government and more accountability. The mandate is clear: Advance an agenda that will create real jobs – not government jobs – but real jobs to get our economy moving again. Reduce the footprint of government in our lives, get government to live within its means, and make government more transparent and accountable.”

It’s always possible, however, that if House Republicans decide to heavily restrict funding in the next Congress for programs enacted by this one that they do not like, Democrats will make it a 2012 election issue – especially if it involves hiring more inspectors and auditors to improve enforcement at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.