Yesterday, Sen. Inhofe welcomed the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce to an EPW Hearing entitled, "Water Resources Development Act of 2010: Jobs and Economic Opportunities." In his introduction, Sen. Inhofe acknowledged attendees Wendy Taylor, Kirby Crowe, and Karen Keith of Tulsa as well as Julie Daniels and Shane Frye of Bartlesville.
Sen. Inhofe with the Tulsa Chamber following WRDA Hearing
Inhofe Statement as Prepared for Delivery:
Thank you, Madam Chairman, for holding this hearing, and thank you to all the witnesses for joining us this morning. Before I get into my statement, I just want to say that I support the Chair's intent to move a Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, this year. Regularly enacted WRDA bills provide the best opportunities to address our nation's water resources infrastructure needs.
The purpose of today's hearing is to discuss the job creation and economic development benefits associated with the kinds of water resources projects and policies typically authorized in a WRDA and carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers.
It took seven years to enact the last WRDA (WRDA 2007), with detractors making two main arguments. First, there were complaints that Corps projects are a waste of taxpayer dollars. I couldn't disagree more.
This year I again was ranked by National Journal as the most conservative Senator, and I certainly take fiscal responsibility seriously. I firmly believe, however, that the two things the federal government should invest in are national defense and public infrastructure. Investments in infrastructure - including water resources infrastructure such as navigation channels, ports, flood control, and hurricane protection measures - not only have short-term job creation benefits, but more importantly, they help bring about long-term economic development opportunities. This dual benefit is one reason I tried to get a greater percentage of the stimulus dollars directed to infrastructure. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
Our witnesses today will discuss the economic contributions these infrastructure projects make from the national perspective, but I'd like to take a moment to talk about my home state of Oklahoma. Many people think of Oklahoma as completely landlocked, but we actually have a very successful port in Tulsa, called the Port of Catoosa. It is a combined port, industrial park, and multi-modal shipping complex, currently with more than 60 companies employing nearly 3,000 employees.
The port lies at the head of navigation for the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, which stretches 445 miles to the Mississippi River. More than 11.6 million tons were shipped on the McClellan-Kerr in 2009, with about 18% of that total going through the Port of Catoosa. Prior to the economic downturn, the system often carried closer to 13 million tons in an average year. This cargo typically consists of sand and rock, fertilizer, wheat, raw steel, and refined petroleum products.
The navigation system, as well as other Corps facilities elsewhere in Oklahoma, also contributes economically by providing flood protection, clean and affordable hydroelectric power, and recreation opportunities for local communities. None of this economic activity would have been realized if the federal government, through the Corps of Engineers, hadn't decided in 1946 to invest in this waterway.
The second main argument against WRDA 2007 was that it contained earmarks and therefore was simply full of "pork projects." Again, I must disagree with the reasoning of some of my colleagues.
Yes, WRDA includes authorizations and modifications of specific projects. But these so-called "earmarks" are the first step in the well-established authorization and appropriations process. One of the best checks on out-of-control spending is limiting funding to only those projects and programs that have been authorized properly. In fact, I have objected many times to unauthorized items being funded in appropriations bills, as well as to authorization language being included in appropriations bills.
The authorization process, and EPW as an authorizing committee, provides the first Congressional review of projects and programs to ensure that only legitimate needs that have a federal interest are eligible for funding consideration. One question EPW has traditionally asked when considering WRDA requests is, "Does the project have a Chief's Report?" The Corps issues Chief's Reports for only those projects shown to have national benefits in excess of project costs. Once projects are authorized, it is then up to the appropriations process to determine priorities for funding.
For these reasons and others, I am a strong supporter of investment in infrastructure and of the importance of working on a WRDA. I am pleased to have the Committee turn to this bipartisan issue that can have significant economic benefits, and I look forward to hearing the testimony from our witnesses.
Watch/Read: Inhofe, Coburn Introduce Legislation to Help Ease Implementation of EPAs Lead-Based Paint Rule
Sen. Inhofe on Tuesday, May 04 joined Sen. Coburn (R-Okla.) and 22 cosponsors in introducing legislation, S. 3296, to assist contractors and homeowners comply with the EPA's "Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule," which went into effect on April 22, 2010.
S. 3296 will delay the implementation of EPA's lead rule until classes have been held in a state for one year. Also, the bill requires EPA to notify Congress about the location and time of training classes so that members can transmit that information to constituents. This will help ensure that enough classes are scheduled so that contractors can be trained. At the same time, having certified contractors available will help realize the rule's health benefits for young children and pregnant women.
"EPA's lead rule affects more than 70 million homes in America," Sen. Inhofe said. "Thus far, the implementation of this rule has been a disaster. Congress must ensure that enough people are trained and certified. That way, the rule can do what it's supposed to do: protect the health of young children and pregnant women."
EPA's Lead: Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule requires that renovations in homes built before 1978 and that disturb more than six square feet must be supervised by a certified renovator and conducted by a certified renovation firm. In order to become certified, contractors must submit an application - with a fee - to EPA, and complete a training course for instruction on lead-safe work practices. Those who violate the rule could face a fine of $37,500 a day.
Because access to courses is so limited, renovators and contractors cannot be trained, and they cannot pass along the benefits of their lead-safe work practices to home owners and help protect pregnant women and children from further lead exposure.
(See Also: Inside EPA: Bid To Delay Lead Paint Rules)
As emergency response efforts continue in the Gulf, EPW Policy Brief presents a new Gulf oil spill policy series to help interested parties understand the ins and outs of federal policies, regulations, and key issues that apply to the tragic Gulf spill.
In addition, we are launching a new webpage with all the latest information on the Gulf spill including upcoming hearings, links to U.S. agencies and outside resources, a timeline of events, and the most up-to-date news. [See webpage here]
In our first Policy Beat installment, we provide an overview of the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990, passed in response to the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989. The OPA is the overarching federal statute that delineates the roles and functions of federal agencies involved in responding to a spill in coastal waters.
We think the Congressional Research Service (CRS) provides an excellent overview of the OPA. Released on April 30, the report, titled "Oil Spills in U.S. Coastal Waters: Background, Governance, and Issues for Congress," updates CRS's earlier work on the subject. CRS provides the historical context behind the OPA to help readers understand why it was passed and delves into details of the act's key provisions and the evolution of the act's implementing regulations.
What follows are excerpts from the report that highlight the essential features of the OPA and the provisions of the law that have the most relevance to the Gulf spill:
"When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in March 1989, there were multiple federal statutes, state statutes, and international conventions that dealt with oil discharges. The governing framework for oil spills in the United States remains a combination of federal, state, and international authorities. Within this framework, several federal agencies have the authority to implement oil spill regulations. The framework and primary federal funding process (the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund) used to respond to oil spills is described below."
"With the enactment of OPA on August 18, 1990, Congress consolidated the existing federal oil spill laws under one program. The 1990 law expanded the existing liability provisions within the CWA and created new free-standing requirements regarding oil spill prevention and response. Key OPA provisions are discussed below."
Oil Pollution Act of 1990
Spill Response Authority: "Oil spill response authority is determined by the location of the spill: the USCG has response authority in coastal waters, and the EPA covers inland oil spills.
- "As the primary response authority in coastal waters, the USCG has the ultimate authority to ensure that an oil spill is effectively removed and actions are taken to prevent further discharge from the source. During response operations, the USCG coordinates the efforts of federal, state, and private parties.
- "Coast Guard response efforts are supported by NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration. NOAA provides scientific analysis and consultation during oil spill response activities. "Assistance can include oil spill tracking, cleanup alternatives, and knowledge of at-risk natural resources. Moreover, NOAA experts begin to collect data to assess natural resource damages during response operations."
National Contingency Plan: "OPA expanded the role and breadth of the NCP. The 1990 law established a multi-layered planning and response system to improve preparedness and response to spills in marine environments. Among other things, the act also required the President to establish procedures and standards (as part of the NCP) for responding to worst-case oil spill scenarios."
Tank Vessel and Facility Response Plans: "As a component of the enhanced NCP, OPA amended the [Clean Water Act] to require that U.S. tank vessels, offshore facilities, and certain onshore facilities prepare and submit oil spill response plans to the relevant federal agency. In general, vessels and facilities are prohibited from handling, storing, or transporting oil if they do not have a plan approved by (or submitted to) the appropriate agency."
Liability Issues: "OPA unified the liability provisions of existing oil spill law, creating a freestanding liability regime. Section 1002 states that responsible parties are liable for any discharge of oil (or threat of discharge) from a vessel or facility to navigable waters, adjoining shorelines, or the exclusive economic zone of the United States (i.e., 200 miles beyond the shore)."
"OPA broadened the scope of damages (i.e., costs) for which an oil spiller would be liable. Under OPA, a responsible party is liable for all cleanup costs incurred, not only by a government entity, but also by a private party. In addition to cleanup costs, OPA significantly increased the range of liable damages to include the following:
- injury to natural resources,
- loss of personal property (and resultant economic losses),
- loss of subsistence use of natural resources,
- lost revenues resulting from destruction of property or natural resource injury,
- lost profits resulting from property loss or natural resource injury, and
- costs of providing extra public services during or after spill response.
"Mobile offshore drilling units (MODUs), like the Deepwater Horizon unit involved in the April 2010 incident in the Gulf of Mexico, are first treated as tank vessels for their liability caps. If removal and damage costs exceed this liability cap, a MODU is deemed to be an offshore facility for the excess amount.
"Offshore facility liability is capped at ‘all removal costs plus $75 million'; onshore facilities and deepwater port liability is limited to $350 million. Although these limits are much higher than under the pre-OPA liability structure, Congress did not alter the limits with the tank vessel increases."
The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund: "Prior to OPA, federal funding for oil spill response was generally considered inadequate, and damage recovery was difficult for private parties. To help address these issues, Congress established the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF).
Pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 12777, the USCG created the National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) to manage the trust fund in 1991. The fund may be used for several purposes:
- prompt payment of costs for responding to and removing oil spills;
- payment of the costs incurred by the federal and state trustees of natural resources for assessing the injuries to natural resources caused by an oil spill, and developing and implementing the plans to restore or replace the injured natural resources;
- payment of parties' claims for uncompensated removal costs, and for uncompensated damages (e.g., financial losses of fishermen, hotels, and beachfront businesses);
- payment for the net loss of government revenue, and for increased public services by a state or its political subdivisions; and
- payment of federal administrative and operational costs, including research and development, and $25 million per year for the Coast Guard's operating expenses.
"In 2005, Congress reinstated the 5-cent-per-barrel tax on oil, thus providing a dedicated source of revenue for the trust fund. In 2006, Congress raised the vessel liability limits, thus requiring the responsible party to pay a greater proportion of the oil spill costs. In 2008, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA; P.L. 110-343) increased the tax rate to 8 cents per barrel through 2016; in 2017, the rate is scheduled to increase to 9 cents per barrel. The tax terminates at the end of 2017.
"In addition to increasing the tax rate, EESA repealed the requirement that the tax be suspended if the unobligated balance of the fund exceeded $2.7 billion. Under the original tax legislation (the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1989 (P.L. 101-239), the per-barrel tax would be suspended in any calendar quarter if the fund balance reached $1 billion, restarting again if it dipped below that number. With the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58), Congress raised this threshold from $1 billion to $2.7 billion.
"[T]he fund is currently projected to crest $3.5 billion by 2016. Policymakers may question whether it is necessary to have the trust fund reach this level. Others have suggested increasing the amount of trust fund monies that can be used to support oil spill research and development programs."
Sen. Inhofe today praised EPA's announcement proposing to amend the current regulations for aftermarket fuel conversions. This proposal updates regulations that apply to manufacturers of clean alternative fuel conversion systems. The proposed revisions would streamline compliance with conversion regulations while maintaining environmentally protective controls:
"I am pleased to see the EPA is taking significant steps to help make vehicle conversions a more widely available option for American drivers," Senator Inhofe said. "This is the type of policy that can help reduce dependence on foreign oil, create jobs, and keep energy prices affordable."
EPA is proposing a new approach that would simplify and streamline the process by which manufacturers of clean alternative fuel conversion systems may demonstrate compliance with vehicle and engine emissions requirements. The new options would reduce some economic and procedural impediments to clean alternative fuel conversions while maintaining environmental safeguards to ensure that acceptable emission levels from converted vehicles are sustained.
Last October, Senator Inhofe joined Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. and Reps. Dan Boren, D-Okla., and Rep. Heath Shuler., D-N.C., in introducing the Streamline Alternative Fuel Vehicle Conversions Act. This legislation seeks to simplify and streamline EPA's emissions certification process for aftermarket fuel conversion systems. EPA's existing regulations effectively prohibit car owners from legally converting a car to a bi-fuel operation. Bi-fuel operation allows a car to switch back and forth from either gasoline or an alternative fuel such as propane or natural gas.
On Tuesday, Sen. Inhofe commented on EPA's release of a proposed regulation covering disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants:
"Ensuring the safe disposal and management of coal ash is a job that states have performed responsibly and effectively for years," Sen. Inhofe said. "The Obama EPA has proposed regulations that could prove unworkable, and even environmentally counterproductive. For example, by using coal ash to make roads and highways more durable, we avoid sending coal ash to landfills. This is one of the many ways coal ash is used for beneficial purposes. Yet EPA's proposed regulatory options for coal ash could restrict, or even prevent altogether, its various beneficial uses. And what EPA has proposed will certainly mean more jobs destroyed and higher electricity prices for consumers, especially those from regions that rely heavily on coal."
The proposed rule contains two separate options for regulating coal ash. A 90 day comment period is next, followed by the time it takes for EPA to read through and respond to the comments. After that EPA will chose one of the two options. The first option is to have EPA regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste under subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, RCRA. The second option is to regulate coal ash under subtitle D of RCRA coupled with enforcement through a citizen's suit provision.
Sen. Inhofe released the following statement Wednesday, May 05 at an Oversight Hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:
I want to start by saying welcome to our three new commissioners, Magwood, Ostendorff, and Apostolakis. It's good to see the NRC with a full complement of commissioners. I appreciate Senator Carper's and Vitter's focus today on the NRC's Principles of Good Regulation. These principles can help the public evaluate the NRC's effectiveness as a regulator. I will focus my remarks on the new plant licensing process measured against the last principle: reliability.
The NRC has been reviewing applications for new nuclear plants for over two and a half years. As the Bipartisan Policy Center noted in its recent review, there have been fits and starts in the process-which is not surprising since no one has licensed a new plant in 30 years. I share the Center's view that both the NRC staff and the industry have been diligent in working through real challenges.
The Center also noted, "Nearly all applicants indicated that certainty in scheduling is more crucial than speed." I share that view and remain concerned with the lack of complete and publicly available schedules. Two and a half years have passed and the NRC has yet to indicate when it expects to issue any licenses. This raises questions of reliability and management.
The Commission's testimony states, "By 2012, the NRC MAY be APPROACHING a final decision..." on the first COLs. Then again, it may not. That's hardly a recipe for a predictable licensing process.
I'm glad to hear the Commission voice high regard for the NRC staff's ability to conduct efficient, predictable, and thorough reviews. NRC staff and license applicants are laboring to produce Safety Evaluation Reports and Environmental Reports according to schedules outlined by the NRC staff. This part of the process is the bulk of the new plant license review and resolves the vast majority of issues and questions. I'm pleased that there is a basic schedule for managing this large and complex workload.
But following the conclusion of the staff's review, there is no schedule.
NRC Reliability Principles state, "Regulatory actions should always be...decisively administered so as to lend stability to the nuclear operational and planning processes." Let me say that planning the construction of fifteen-billion-dollar nuclear plants is a very complex process. How can these companies develop a construction schedule and plan the hiring of three thousand construction workers if they don't know when they can start? How can investors feel confident about backing these projects if the agency itself is either incapable or unwilling to predict when it will finish its work?
The Commission indicates in its testimony, "The Commission is fully confident that the agency can successfully and effectively meet its regulatory responsibilities with regard to all these matters." I'm glad to hear that, but it's high time the Commission lead by example and give stakeholders a reason to have confidence. The NRC should make clear to the public, applicants, and investors how it is managing new-plant licensing; it can do this by establishing a transparent process with complete schedules and milestones to measure results.
Congress to hold hearings on Gulf of Mexico oil spill
May 05, 2010
WASHINGTON -- Three congressional committees have scheduled hearings next week on the Gulf of Mexico rig accident that continues to spew oil that threatens large portions of Louisiana's coast.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Senate Environment and Public Workers Committee will hold hearings Tuesday, followed by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on Wednesday.
Among other issues, House subcommittee is requesting reports on inspections of the blowout preventer on BP's Deepwater Horizon rig and why it failed to prevent the explosion and the subsequent oil leak. The subcommittee also said it wants to know whether BP deployed any backup devices designed as a fail-safe when the blowout preventer doesn't function properly.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., had asked the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to put off Tuesday's hearing on the rig accident so that people working to control the spill aren't taken away from those responsibilities.
In a letter to Vitter, Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said the committee will only call witnesses who aren't involved in day-to-day response efforts, or who already planned to be in Washington on Tuesday.
Boxer said her "heart goes out" to victims of the oil spill, but said Congress has important oversight responsibilities to insure the oil spill response is being handled effectively and that disruption to the local economy is minimized.
Inhofe EPW News Roundup
"No Hope" - "Impossible to Pass" - "Graham Urges Scrap"
Roll Call: Graham Sees No Hope for Climate Bill This Year (05/07/10) - Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Friday that work on a climate change bill should halt until Congress deals with the "uncertainty of the immigration debate and the consequences of the [Gulf of Mexico] oil spill." In a statement released by his office, Graham said he supports addressing climate change in a "reasoned, thoughtful manner," but that Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) refusal to take immigration reform off the table for the year, combined with the Gulf oil spill, makes that impossible. "Regrettably, in my view, this has become impossible in the current environment. I believe there could be more than 60 votes for this bipartisan concept in the future," Graham said. "But there are not nearly 60 votes today and I do not see them materializing until we deal with the uncertainty of the immigration debate and the consequences of the oil spill."
Fox News: Key Republican: Climate Bill 'Impossible' to Pass Now (05/07/10) - A key Republican negotiating with Democrats on a climate change bill says it's "become impossible" to pass the legislation now. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had already threatened to withhold support for the bill when congressional Democrats said they would take up a rewrite of immigration policy. Graham said Friday that given that issue and the Gulf oil spill, it would be wise to stop and reassess the climate bill. Graham noted that the legislation he was drafting with two other senators called for increased offshore drilling -- which is now opposed by some Democrats because of the widening oil spill. He said that there aren't nearly the 60 votes needed to win passage of a climate change bill aimed at limiting carbon dioxide emissions.
Wash Post: Graham says 'impossible' to pass climate bill now (05/07/10) - A key Republican negotiating with Democrats on a climate change bill says it's "become impossible" to pass the legislation now. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had already threatened to withhold support for the bill after congressional Democrats said they would take up a rewrite of immigration policy. Graham said Friday that given that issue and the Gulf oil spill, it would be wise to stop and reassess the climate bill. Graham noted that the legislation he was drafting with two other senators called for increased offshore drilling - which is now opposed by some Democrats because of the widening oil spill. He said that there aren't nearly the 60 votes needed to win passage of a climate change bill aimed at limiting carbon dioxide emissions.
Kerry: Climate Bill Really a "Refund Bill" - "Nothing grows the size of government. Every penny goes back to creating jobs and protecting the American consumer. (05/05/10)" - "Ironically, we've been working very closely with some of these oil companies in the last months," Kerry said, referring to BP, ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell PLC. "And I want to tell you they've acted in good faith and they've worked hard with us to try to find a way to get us to a solution that meets all of our needs. And I believe, when we roll out a bill, and we will very, very soon, we're going to have a unique coalition." Kerry did not give a timeline beyond "very soon" for releasing the bill he has co-authored with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). The trio had been planning to unveil the bill April 26 but indefinitely postponed the press conference after Graham complained that Democratic leaders had pushed the politically thorny issue of immigration onto the Senate agenda, making it impossible for him to also work on the climate legislation.
E&E News: Senate cap-and-trade bill coming out next week -- Boxer (05/05/2010) - Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are planning to release their climate and energy bill as soon as next week even if they cannot win back their longtime GOP partner, according to a top Senate Democrat. Kerry revealed the tentative schedule for the unveiling of his long-awaited measure during the Democrats' weekly meeting of committee leaders. "He said it's looking good, and he hopes to have a press conference next week," said Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Both Kerry and Lieberman sidestepped questions about the timing of their bill. "It's coming soon," Lieberman said.
Politico: Lindsey Graham wants to 'pause' on climate bill (05/07/10) - Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has gone from fence-sitting to urging Democrats to scrap climate change legislation before the midterms - saying the Gulf oil spill warrants a pause in the effort. "As I have previously indicated, a serious debate on energy legislation is significantly compromised with the cynical politics of comprehensive immigration reform hanging over the Senate," Graham said in a statement Friday morning. "In addition to immigration, we now have to deal with a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which creates new policy and political challenges not envisioned in our original discussions. In light of this, I believe it would be wise to pause the process and reassess where we stand." Graham's statement came after senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) announced plans to push ahead with a climate bill Graham previously had signed off on.
E&E News: Graham says he could vote for energy bill, but oil spill requires a 'time-out' (05/07/2010) - Sen. Lindsey Graham sees himself as a possible 60th vote on the comprehensive energy and climate bill. But the South Carolina Republican doubts the debate will even get that far, at least in the current political atmosphere that includes a ripening battle over immigration and uncertainty over the causes of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. "All I can tell you is everything you need to grow the vote in the last couple of weeks has been missing," he said in an interview yesterday. Graham two weeks ago threw a major league curveball into the prospects for the climate bill when he backed out of seven months of negotiations with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). He blames the Obama administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for playing politics on the climate bill by pushing immigration onto this year's agenda.
The Hill: Graham calls for a pause on talks for energy and climate bill (05/07/10) - The Senate should pause its efforts to pass a bipartisan energy bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Friday. Graham, one of three negotiators on a compromise energy and climate bill, said that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico had made passing such legislation more difficult and urged his colleagues to re-evaluate their approach. "In addition to immigration, we now have to deal with a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which creates new policy and political challenges not envisioned in our original discussions," Graham said Friday in a statement. "In light of this, I believe it would be wise to pause the process and reassess where we stand."