Friday, April 29, 2011

Inhofe Joins the Oklahoma Delegation in Response to Obamas Energy Policy of Tax Increases

Senator Inhofe was pleased to stand with the Oklahoma congressional delegation on Wednesday in opposition to President Obama's efforts to impose tax increases on the oil and gas industry that would hurt small, independent oil and gas companies, put thousands of jobs at risk, and increase the cost of gasoline for every American. Below are excerpts from the Tulsa World and the Oklahoman reporting today on the delegation's reaction to Obama's plan:

 - Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Boren said Obama just needs to be quiet. "Americans are tired of empty rhetoric on both sides and want a real plan,'' Boren said. "If the president doesn't want to stand up and be a leader, then his silence would be appreciated from people who are trying to find solutions.'' Boren described Obama as completely uninformed about the oil and gas industry. "The industry is not made up of just major companies,'' he said. "It is made up of small independent firms like those in Oklahoma that produce a vast majority of our domestic production.'' For every CEO of a major company, Boren said, there are thousands of blue-collar jobs that are affected by the Obama administration's energy policy. "It is a policy that is very inadequate and has left so many on the Gulf Coast unemployed.'' Boren said. Tulsa World

 - "President Barack Obama encouraged congressional leaders Tuesday to abolish "wasteful subsidies" to the oil and gas industry, but Rep. Tom Cole said the president "doesn't know squat about energy production." Obama, who has been trying since 2009 to eliminate some tax deductions for oil and gas producers, sent a letter to the Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, urging them to steer the money instead to clean energy investments that would reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil... Cole, R-Moore, said Obama was "trying to score political points." "We get great politics out of the White House," Cole said. "We just don't get great policy." The White House wouldn't understand the difference between Exxon-Mobil and a small independent producer in Madill, he said. But Cole said eliminating long-standing tax provisions, such as deductions for intangible drilling costs and percentage depletion of reserves, would hurt independent producers and result in the shutdown of wells that produce small amounts of oil. Oklahoman 

 - Republican Rep. John Sullivan: "Targeting the oil and gas industry with tax increases would not only raise gas prices even higher, but it would place hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma jobs in jeopardy of being eliminated or shipped overseas,'' Sullivan said. Sullivan pointed out that the oil and gas industry employs more than 300,000 people in Oklahoma and 9.2 million nationwide, who pay almost $100 million per day in taxes to the federal government. Tulsa World 

 - The Senate last June voted 61 to 35 against an amendment containing Obama's proposals for eliminating tax provisions that benefit oil and gas companies. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, who led the debate against that amendment, said Tuesday that Obama apparently forgot the outcome of that vote. "He now wants Congress to do exactly the opposite," Inhofe said. "His letter is merely a distraction from what every American knows can help restrain rising prices: increase supply, that is, increase American energy production." Oklahoman

Deer Creek Grove Valley school gains wetlands

The Oklahoman Thursday reported on the successful relocation of wetlands to an outdoor classroom at Deer Creek Grove Valley School.  On April 27, 2010, Senator Inhofe was pleased to welcome then Grove Valley Elementary School Principal, Debbie Straughn, who is currently organizing the wetlands relocation, to testify about her outdoor classroom before the EPW committee.  The outdoor classroom was created utilizing the Partners Program - a program that incentivizes partnerships between private landowners and the federal government to restore habitats.  In her testimony Straughn said, "The outdoor classroom provides an ideal structured leaning for the children and promotes ideal wildlife habitat... The outdoor habitat gave children an interactive learning environment."  As Ranking Member of the EPW Committee, Senator Inhofe is pleased to have welcomed several Oklahoma officials to testify in committee hearings. 

 
Senator Inhofe Joins Principal Straughn to Skype with Students from Grove Valley Elementary After Straughn's Testimony

Oklahoman 

Deer Creek Grove Valley school gains wetlands

Deer Creek Grove Valley Elementary School students recently helped plant native grasses and underwater plants in the school's new wetlands outdoor classroom.

BY TRICIA PEMBERTON

April 28, 2011

Link to Article

It's hard work relocating a wetlands, students at Deer Creek Grove Valley Elementary School learned recently.

"They watered the soil but not enough," said fifth-grader Sarah Crain, 11. "The holes were very hard to dig."

Sarah and other third- through fifth-graders at the school helped plant native grasses and underwater plants last week in the school's new 3-acre wetlands outdoor classroom.

Fellow fifth-grader Shubhan Gulati, 10, said the work was sweaty, but rewarding.

"We will have teaching posts where students can fish or hold science classes," he said. "They can test water levels and look for organisms or chemicals.

"It is so fun to have a wetlands. Not many people get to go and see one in their life, and we have one at our school."

The project is in partnership with Tinker Air Force Base and other state and community agencies who worked alongside students at Friday's ribbon-cutting and planting.

Principal Debbie Straughn explained that a U.S. Air Force military construction project required the relocation of the wetlands from Tinker. The area couldn't be relocated on base, however, because of the potential that planes might strike birds.

Straughn, who had a wetlands outdoor classroom when she was principal at Deer Creek Elementary School, was looking to build an outdoor classroom at Grove Valley. She was put in contact with Tinker through the Oklahoma Conservation District Service. A $55,000 government grant paid for the project.

Saving a tree

Last year, Straughn testified about the project in Senate committee hearings in Washington at the request of Sen. Jim Inhofe. Students at the school watched the hearing via Smartboards, Shubhan said.

One part of the project that Straughn is most happy with is she was able to save a large, old tree in the wetlands area. She said plans originally called for the tree to be removed, but she pleaded for it to be saved.

Mark Bayes, with state Forestry Services, helped save the tree. Bayes was part of saving the Survivor Tree for the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.

While older students planted Friday, younger students gathered at the tree and heard about its survival.

Shubhan and Sarah showed plans for the scope of the project, pointing out where there will be welcome centers, teaching platforms, bridges and a dam. They also talked about trails that will be built around the wetlands in the future.

The wetlands still has to be filled with water. In May, students and volunteers will plant water lilies and other aquatic plants. In the fall, they will plant trees. Straughn said she plans also for students to plant vegetable and flower gardens.

The wetlands also will be available to residents of The Grove, a community adjacent to the school, Straughn said.

The only drawback for fifth-graders is that they will be in middle school by the time the wetlands classroom is complete.

Sarah and Shubhan said they've already brainstormed with Straughn about forming a middle school club to help maintain the wetlands or to use it as a classroom.

Tulsa World: EPA water proposal draws opposition from Inhofe, Lucas

Tulsa World 

EPA water proposal draws opposition from Inhofe, Lucas

By JIM MYERS

April 28, 2011

Link to Article

Link to Inhofe Press Release

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe warned Wednesday that the Obama administration's newly proposed clean-water guidance shows it wants to put every body of water, no matter how insignificant, under the authority of the federal government.

Given how broadly the proposal would reach throughout the economy, the Oklahoma Republican vowed to have the Senate vote on it.

"This guidance document further shifts the balance of regulatory authority away from states to the federal bureaucracy,'' Inhofe said.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., agreed, warning that despite its claim that the guidance is nonbinding, the administration's approach would lead to an intrusion of individual and states' rights.

Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, warned the proposed guidance could end up covering even farm ponds and ditches.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson discussed the proposal in a teleconference call with reporters, along with Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy.

Jackson described the "extraordinary steps'' outlined by the group as part of the administration's broad commitment to protecting water.

"These are issues that Americans are deeply concerned about,'' she said, referring both to a poll as well as human stories that demonstrate the value Americans put on clean water to fish in, swim in or just drink.

Jackson described the current guidance as broken because it leaves too much uncertainty about what water is covered, adding that it leaves some water unprotected.

Only the lawyers are winning, she said.

Under the timeline laid out by Jackson, the proposed guidance will be released for public comment followed by work on drafting a new rule.

She conceded more water could end up being protected under the administration's new approach but played down the possibility that such an expansion would be massive.

Oklahoman Editorial: For ODOT director, some federal laws difficult to swallow

Oklahoman Editorial 

For ODOT director, some federal laws difficult to swallow

April 26, 2011

Link to Editorial

Link to Tulsa World: Bird safetly law hampers bridge work, official says

Link to Tulsa World: State transportation secretary blasts EPA proposal; highway agency

As head of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, Gary Ridley has made it a point not to wade into political battles. He didn't take a public stand on a proposed gasoline tax several years ago that would have benefited ODOT, and he stayed out of the fray last year over an education funding proposal that, if approved, would have adversely affected his agency and others.

Because state and federal politicians wield the clout to help ODOT, or not, it's in Ridley's interests to get along with them as best he can. He has done this exceedingly well during his many years in charge, earning their respect as an honorable man whose overarching interests are to maintain and improve Oklahoma's roads and bridges.

So Ridley's recent appearance before Congress, where he criticized the policies of some federal agencies, is notable. Among other things he made his displeasure known about the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to toughen air-quality standards, and said the Federal Highway Administration "is running amok," citing changes that he said will keep states from using "sound engineering judgment."

Afterward he talked some more about the nuttiness that stems from Washington, D.C., using as an example a federal law regarding a particular swallow that nests under man-made objects - such as highway bridges. Last year, Ridley said, painting work a bridge in Ellis County had to be delayed until swallows that were nesting underneath it had departed. The cost of the delay: close to $28,000.

The law that protects the swallows was written a century ago. "It seems somewhat ridiculous to me," Ridley told the Tulsa World. "This is not an endangered species."

These cliff swallows nest here from April to August, which is ODOT's busiest construction season. But the experience in Ellis County is fresh on the agency's mind, even as important projects await. Ridley cited two bridges on Interstate 40 west of Oklahoma City that are structurally deficient and functionally obsolete. ODOT has been gearing up for more than a year to have them replaced.

Ridley has no doubt there will be swallows under those bridges. If the nesting schedule of the birds bumps up against the work schedule of the highway crews, then costly delays are likely. "That to me is unacceptable," he told the World.

He's right, of course, but good luck trying to convince the feds - particularly this administration - of that. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services says there's only a problem if birds are killed during a project. It advises states to plan ahead, and to remove nests before or after breeding season.

There's no permit needed to do that. Perhaps that'll cheer Ridley up a bit. If not, who could blame him?

E&E News: Senate Republicans lobby White House on paint rule

E&E News 

Senate Republicans lobby White House on paint rule

Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E reporter

April 28, 2011

Link to Article 

Senate Republicans urged the Obama administration yesterday to reconsider U.S. EPA's implementation plan for a new lead-based paint rule.

In a letter to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma led a group of Republicans in criticizing proposed amendments to EPA's Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting (LRRP) rule.

The original rule took effect last April and requires housing contractors to obtain certification in lead-safe work practices before renovating properties built before 1978, when lead was banned from use in residences (Greenwire, April 23).

EPA sent the proposed amendments to OIRA for review last week. One of those amendments requires "clearance testing" following renovations to ensure lead is not present in homes.

Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called that requirement a "dramatic change to the program" that "will amplify the unintended consequences we have heard from our constituents: that the higher costs from current LRRP renovators have pushed homeowners to either hire uncertified individuals or to perform renovation work themselves."

That, the Oklahoman wrote, runs "counter to the intent of the rule, which is to protect people from the potential dangers of lead dust."

Lead poses health risks to the central nervous system, particularly in children. Despite the government ban, lead is present in millions of homes built before 1978.

Despite supporting the original intent of the lead rule, Inhofe has been a frequent critic of how EPA has gone about implementing it. Last week, Inhofe and other Republican senators sent EPA two letters criticizing the new amendments. Inhofe also called for the Environment and Public Works Committee to hold hearings on the regulations (Greenwire, April 19).

EPA has not responded to last week's letters, Inhofe's office said.

Inhofe and the Republicans also took issue with how EPA implemented the original rule. That led to a vote on a measure that would have temporarily blocked EPA from using funds to fine contractors that were not in compliance with the new rule. The measure passed the Senate with 60 votes.

In the letter to the White House, the Republicans say they "remain concerned that this amendment will have the unintended consequence of driving people away from using LRRP certified renovators and missing the clear health benefits that come from employing LRRP renovators."

The letter's signees are Inhofe and Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, David Vitter of Louisiana, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Michael Enzi and John Barrasso of Wyoming, and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.

Greenwire: NRC chairman's emergency declaration irks leading Senate Republican

Greenwire

NRC chairman's 'emergency' declaration irks leading Senate Republican (04/29/2011)

Hannah Northey, E&E reporter

Link to Article

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been in "emergency" status since the United States received tsunami warnings in the wake of a March 11 earthquake that crippled Japanese nuclear reactors last month, documents obtained by Greenwire reveal.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko is using the rarely used status, allowing for the transfer of certain commission decisionmaking powers to himself, because of concerns that the tsunami spawned by the quake could hit the United States. Though that threat subsided within 48 hours, the emergency status continues, according to an email the NRC's Office of Congressional Affairs sent to a senior staffer for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

"The chairman has been exercising his emergency authority since that time," the April 4 email said, noting Jaczko had such authority under Section 3 of the Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1980. "The agency will return to a non-emergency status when the situation warrants."

Congress passed the law in 1980 to ensure there was decisive leadership for dealing with nuclear emergencies in the aftermath of the partial nuclear meltdown in 1979 at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania, the NRC said.

Former NRC Chairman Richard Meserve last used such authority following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to the NRC, which allowed Meserve to ensure that security designations at U.S. nuclear plants were raised to the highest levels.

"Responding to external emergencies is a basic function of the agency and its designated chairman, as noted by President Carter when he sent the Congress the current reorganization plan under which the NRC operates," said Eliot Brenner, a spokesman for Jaczko.

"When the NRC stands down its emergency response capabilities is wholly dependent on the status of the situation in Japan and the need for our assistance to the embassy, American citizens and the request by Japan for assistance," he said.

NRC commissioners were notified on March 11 that the agency had entered into a "monitoring mode" in response to the Japanese crisis, and Brenner said the chairman was not required to make a declaration of any type for using emergency authority.

But Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, says the chairman's decision could be limiting crucial input from other commissioners. "This action may have reduced the contributions of your experienced colleagues in monitoring the event and in decision-making," Inhofe wrote in an April 6 letter to Jaczko.

A senior agency official said at least one NRC commissioner was not aware of the "emergency" declaration for at least a month. That commissioner, who refused to be named, has questions about how the chairman is using the emergency authority and whether he has assumed the policy function to make decisions on behalf of the entire commission, the official said.

Brenner said NRC commissioners are not precluded from providing input and that all four commissioners and the chairman together last month adopted the NRC's review of U.S. nuclear reactors in the aftermath of the Japanese disaster. "Any decisions that flow from that study would, of course, be commission decisions," Brenner said.

Inhofe, whose office provided the email to Greenwire, has questioned how the head of a federal agency can declare an emergency in the United States for a disaster that happened in another country. The 1980s law guides how an emergency can be declared and what it allows the chairman to do.

Jaczko raised eyebrows when he recommended that Japanese officials evacuate people living within 50 miles of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Japanese officials at the time were maintaining an evacuation area of 12 miles around the reactor complex.

NRC staff were unable to say who vetted Jaczko's recommendation when the NRC Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards asked for clarification at an April 7 meeting (Greenwire, April 7).

The advisory committee, composed of part-time government employees with expertise in nuclear engineering, risk assessment and general engineering, voiced concern over the lack of knowledge surrounding Jaczko's high-level statement and asked the commission to provide detailed calculations that went into supporting the 50-mile evacuation recommendation.

NRC staff said at the time that the "conservative" decision to call for a 50-mile evacuation zone was based on assumptions that the spent fuel pool was full of fuel, as are American spent fuel pools. But NRC staff said they were surprised to later learn that the Japanese spent fuel pools were not as packed with nuclear fuel as they would have been in the United States.

Brenner clarified that the chairman's recommendation for a 50-mile evacuation zone was a recommendation, not an official order.

Robert Duffy, chairman of the political science department at Colorado State University, said he sympathizes with the need for leadership in the aftermath of the Japanese crisis but found it odd that the chairman wouldn't inform commissioners of the "emergency" status.

Duffy said Jaczko's recommendation to implement a 50-mile evacuation zone may be scrutinized because it raises doubts about the safety of the nuclear industry in the United States.

"My guess would be the industry wasn't really thrilled with a statement that you need to evacuate within 50 miles of the Fukushima plant," Duffy said. "All of a sudden, people start asking questions about U.S. plants and the NRC's ability to regulate."