Friday, June 17, 2011

Inhofe Joins Bipartisan Effort to Improve Offshore Permitting Process

On Friday, Senator Inhofe joined Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in introducing bipartisan legislation that will cut regulatory red tape and allow greater access to domestic energy resources.  The bill, The Offshore Energy and Jobs Permitting Act, will specifically curtail the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) internal Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) from continually stalling energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Under the current system, companies that have paid billions of dollars for offshore oil and gas leases are subject to an endless regulatory loop where the EPA has been unable to issue a permit capable of withstanding its own appeals process. The appeals board is made up of environmental attorneys acting as judges though they are neither confirmed nor authorized by Congress.

Additional cosponsors include Senators John Barrasso, R-WY; Rob Portman, R-OH; John Hoeven, R-ND; John Cornyn, R-TX; Roy Blunt, R-MO; Dan Coats, R-IN; Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX; Bob Corker, R-TN; John Thune, R-SD; Richard Lugar, R-IN; Mark Begich, D-AK; and Mary Landrieu, D-LA.

Link to the Offshore Energy and Jobs Permitting Act

"I am pleased to join Senator Murkowski and my colleagues to introduce bipartisan legislation that would remove the unnecessary and endless regulatory process created by the EPA and EAB." Senator Inhofe said.  "For too long, the EAB has been a major impediment to the development of the Outer Continental Shelf:  it has created confusion and uncertainty and has stalled permits already granted by EPA.

"Not only does this process cut off access to our resources, it also prevents the creation of thousands of jobs.  According to one study, economic activity resulting from exploration on Alaska's Outer Continental Shelf could generate an annual average of 54,700 jobs nationwide, with an estimated cumulative payroll of $145 billion over the next 50 years.

"This bill would remove a significant barrier to the development of our domestic resources and the creation of good-paying jobs. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this bill in the Senate."

The Offshore Energy and Jobs Permitting Act would:

 - Amend current law to require air-emission impacts be measured onshore - not offshore - and clarify that any drilling vessel will be regulated as a stationary source once drilling starts;

 - Ensure that the appeals board no longer claims authority to consider or invalidate permits for offshore exploration, allowing instead for review in federal court;

 - Require EPA to grant or deny a permit within six months of the filing of a completed application.

This legislation is a companion measure to H.R. 2021, The Jobs and Energy Permitting Act, introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner and voted out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Overwhelming Bipartisan Vote Shows Momentum Continues to Build Against Ethanol Mandate

Senator Inhofe commented on Thursday's vote on an amendment offered by Senators Feinstein (CA) and Coburn (OK) to the Economic Development Revitalization Act (S. 782), which eliminates the excise tax credit for ethanol.  The amendment (Feinstein Amendment #476) passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 73-27 in the Senate.

"Today's vote clearly demonstrates that Congress pushed too much corn ethanol too fast in 2007," Senator Inhofe said.  "I appreciate the efforts of Senators Feinstein and Coburn to draw attention to this issue: Congress rarely reaches such overwhelming bipartisan agreements and I hope today's vote will provide the momentum needed to make necessary changes to the corn ethanol mandate."

Senator Inhofe has been a leading advocate for reforming the corn ethanol mandate.  Last month, he introduced The Fuel Feedstock Freedom Act (S. 1085)-a bill that gives individual States the option not to participate in the corn ethanol portion of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).  It also expands the definition of the cellulosic biofuel carve-out to include algae and any non-ethanol renewable fuel derived from renewable biomass. This new feedstock-neutral definition will encourage the use of renewable feedstocks such as algae, while promoting the production of drop-in fuels, which are both engine friendly and can be readily blended and transported in the nation's existing distribution infrastructure.

Link to the Fuel Feedstock Freedom Act

Link to Press Release: Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation Introduced to Address Ethanol Mandate Concerns

Inhofe Welcomes Jaczkos Commitment to Provide Emergency Powers Report

Following Thursday's oversight hearing, Senator Inhofe welcomed a commitment from Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Greg Jaczko to provide a full report of his use of emergency powers following the nuclear accident in Japan.  Under Section 3(d) of the Reorganization Plan of 1980 the law requires that: "Following the conclusion of the emergency, the Chairman...shall render a complete and timely report to the Commission on the actions taken during the emergency."

"I appreciate Chairman Jaczko's commitment during today's hearing to provide a full report to me regarding his use of emergency powers - powers reserved for responding to domestic emergencies," Senator Inhofe said.  "The law clearly dictates that it is the Chairman's responsibility to supply a report which describes the actions taken while exercising these authorities. Above all, I hope that the Chairman will include his legal rationale.  During today's hearing he said that he had ‘plenty of documentation from the general counsel to support that.' I remain puzzled as to why he failed to provide that documentation when I requested it in my April 6th letter."

Section 3(c) of the Reorganization Plan of 1980 states that: "In acting under this section, the Chairman...shall conform to the policy guidelines of the Commission.  To the maximum extent possible under the emergency conditions, the Chairman...shall inform the Commission of actions taken relative to the emergency." 

"I also expect his report to include why he did not feel obligated to inform his fellow commissioners that he was transferring to himself the functions vested in the Commission. During today's hearing, the four commissioners confirmed that the Chairman failed to notify them of his use of these powers for weeks. I am anxious to have these questions answered, and I look forward to receiving his report in a timely manner."

Link to Video: Jaczko Keeps NRC in the Dark on Emergency Powers

Inhofe Hearing Statement: Full Committee Hearing on The Clean Air Act and Public Health

At Wednesday's full Committee hearing, "The Clean Air Act and Public Health," Senator Inhofe gave the following statement:

Link to Video of Opening Statement

Madam Chairwoman, I appreciate your having today's hearing.  This is the first time this session we've had Administrator Jackson here to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) air quality regulations.  I'm glad you're here.  I'd also like to thank the witnesses on our second panel.  Cathy Woollums, I'm anxious to hear how EPA's regulations are affecting your rate payers.  Dr. Brenner, I look forward to learning more about how energy price increases and unemployment affect public health.  I think your testimony will be particularly insightful in light of the sweeping job losses we expect from EPA's rules.

Over the past two years, the Obama EPA has moved forward with an unprecedented number of rules that will have enormous consequences for families, businesses, and the nation's fiscal well-being.   Take for example, EPA's new greenhouse gas (GHG) cap and trade regulations.  Administrator Jackson, you have admitted that regulating GHGs in the U.S. will have no impact on global GHG concentrations, yet your rules will come at an estimated cost of $300 to $400 billion annually.  The Agency's voluntary reconsideration of the national ambient air quality standards for ground-level ozone  - a decision based on outdated data that could lead to significant economic constraints on the country - is an another Agency action of dubious merit.  EPA projects the cost of this rule in the order of $90 billion.  Meanwhile, the Agency is planning to tighten the standards again in just two years.

The Obama EPA is aggressively moving forward to regulate nearly all aspects of American life - it now has regulations covering dust on farms and puddles of water along the side of road.  And it is businesses and working families who will pay the price.

Today we have a witness from the electric power industry with us, so let's focus on the regulations affecting her business for a minute.  Just last week, in response to EPA's rules, American Electric Power (AEP) announced they would be forced to close nearly 6,000 Megawatts of low cost (coal) power generation.  As a consequence, AEP estimates nearly 600 power plant workers will lose their jobs, totaling nearly $40 million in annual wages.  These are good paying jobs in rural areas of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Texas.  These jobs won't easily be replaced.

Of course, the effects to the communities will be far greater than these direct job losses alone, as electricity prices increase and nearby businesses suffer in the wake of plant closures.  A recent report by National Economic Research Associates (NERA) anticipates this will be replicated across the country, with an estimated 48 Gigawatts in plant closures.  And this is from just two of EPA's rules.  That's the AEP tragedy eight times over.  And before this analysis is criticized, let me say that it is consistent with multiple projections, including that of Obama's Department of Energy, which estimates that plant closures could be as high as 70 Gigawatts.   NERA goes on to predict that these two rules - the "Utility MACT" and the "Transport Rule" - will cause electricity prices to increase by as much as 23 percent.  By 2020, 1.4 million jobs could be lost.

As I said at last week's hearing, we all have an interest in dealing with real pollution concerns and protecting public health.  But we also know that President Obama has a cap and trade agenda that's specifically designed to raise energy prices by forcing coal and oil out of the market.  He couldn't get it passed the Senate, so now he has the EPA doing it for him.  This is something that no more than one-third of the U.S. Senate would vote for.

Today, the Clean Air Act is being implemented in a way that bears no resemblance to what Congress intended.  Congress didn't give EPA the authority to set mandates that can't be achieved.  Congress didn't give EPA the authority to pursue an agenda that hurts the very people it's supposedly trying to protect.  And we all know that Congress didn't give EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gasses.  But here we are.

We hear a lot about the Clean Air Act these days.  And I'll be the first to admit that industry and states have done a great job of cleaning up the air over the past 40 years.  But the Clean Air Act is in dire need of modernization. It needs to be updated to undo years of bureaucratic overreach and messy court rulings; updated to meet the pollution challenges of today.  And yes, updated to stop politicians from using it to pursue a reckless political agenda that hurts working families.  

Inhofe Offers Amendment to Bring Greater Accountabilty To EDA Process

Senator Inhofe announced Thursday that he is introducing an amendment (Inhofe #459) to the Economic Development Revitalization Act (EDA) (S. 782), which he said would be essential to secure his support for the bill. The amendment would give the Government Accountability Office (GAO) the ability to audit the distribution of EDA grants.  GAO would be responsible for ensuring that these grants are awarded through a competitive process and in accordance with EDA criteria and requirements.  Additionally GAO would submit a report every year to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to have the efficiency of the program reviewed. 

Link to Inhofe Amendment #459

"Over the past few weeks, I have been working closely with my colleagues in the Senate to make vital improvements to the Economic Development Revitalization Act so that the bill can gain the support it enjoyed in 2004 when it passed by Unanimous Consent in the Senate," Senator Inhofe said.  "As a result of these discussions, I am introducing an additional amendment that will require the GAO to evaluate how EDA funds are awarded.  Instead of letting bureaucrats decide where to direct these funds, my amendment ensures that EDA grants are awarded through a highly competitive, transparent process, with proper oversight from Congress. 

"My colleagues in both the Senate and the House have stressed the importance of having greater accountability and oversight in the EDA grant process.  Without this amendment, the bill stands no chance of passing in the House: therefore, it is essential in order to gain my support for the Economic Development Revitalization Act in the Senate." 

Link to Inhofe Amendment #459

Additional Inhofe Amendments:

Link to Press Release: Inhofe Introduces Amendment to Bring Down Authorization Level of EDA Bill

Link to Press Release: Inhofe Introduces Amendments to Help Protect Jobs

Inhofe Hearing Statement: Joint Oversight Hearing: The NRCs Preliminary Results of the Nuclear Safety Review in the US following the Emergency at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant in Japan

Senator Inhofe gave the following remarks at Thursday's Full Committee and Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety joint hearing entitled, "Oversight Hearing: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Preliminary Results of the Nuclear Safety Review in the United States following the Emergency at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant in Japan": 

 Chairman Boxer, I'd like to begin by thanking you for honoring your commitment to act on the re-nomination of Commissioner Ostendorff for a full, five-year term.  Our country is best served by a complete Commission with each member contributing their diverse views and acting as a collegial body.  Commissioner Ostendorff's expertise is invaluable and given the unanimous vote in this Committee, I hope he will be confirmed immediately.

I also want to thank you for having this hearing.  It has been over three months since the earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan and resulted in the world's second largest nuclear accident in history.  I am pleased that we will finally hear from all five commissioners on the agency's actions to ensure the safety of our nuclear plants based on lessons learned from the Fukushima accident.

But first, I want to take a moment to acknowledge a report by the NRC Inspector General (IG) into NRC Chairman Jaczko's conduct with regard to the Yucca Mountain license application.  I was concerned about this very situation in 2005 when he appeared before this Committee for the first time: that his prior work in opposition to Yucca Mountain would impair his ability to act fairly as a commissioner and so I asked him to recuse himself.  His conduct has clearly damaged the credibility of the agency and warrants oversight hearings by this Committee.

However, what I find most disconcerting in the IG's report is the image of a Chairman who withholds information from his colleagues, acts unilaterally, and rules by intimidation.  While the IG may have focused on the Chairman's involvement with Yucca Mountain, I believe misconduct extends beyond that.   This first became apparent to me while preparing for our last hearing, on April 12th, when I heard that the Majority was breaking with the Committee precedent of having the full commission testify.  I was surprised to learn that we would only hear from Chairman Jaczko because he was exercising his emergency powers under Section 3 of the Reorganization Plan of 1980.  Even more unbelievable was that he had not only failed to inform me of his decision on at least two occasions, but he had also failed to inform his colleagues.

Furthermore, in exercising this emergency authority, he acted unilaterally without a firm legal basis, failed to keep his colleagues fully informed, and prohibited them from entering the Operations Center where much of the agency's post-Fukushima work was conducted.   These actions are strikingly similar to some of the IG's conclusions regarding the Chairman's conduct on Yucca Mountain.   More importantly, he chose not to utilize the expertise of his fellow commissioners when confronted with the world's second largest nuclear accident.

A true leader when facing such extraordinary challenges would marshal all resources at his disposal and seek out the best expertise he can.  That would be my expectation of any Chairman responsible for ensuring nuclear safety.   Instead, we have a chairman who, under statute, "SHALL BE GOVERNED BY GENERAL POLICIES OF THE COMMISSION" and yet selectively ignores Commission procedures, discounting them as merely "guidelines" when questioned by the IG.  In the nuclear industry, procedures exist to ensure nuclear safety.  The Chairman should show the same respect for procedures governing his actions that he would expect from licensees.  The public deserves nothing less. 

In the News...E&E News: Defiant NRC chief rejects calls to resign over Yucca dispute

E&E News 

Defiant NRC chief rejects calls to resign over Yucca dispute, says he's ignoring political distractions  

Hannah Northey, E&E reporter

 

June 16, 2011 

 

Link to Article

 

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko rebuffed a top House Republican's call for his resignation yesterday, saying he did not break any laws and that only President Obama has the authority to take away his chairmanship.

 

"I have no intention to leave office and the only other person who has the ability to remove me from office is the president, so if the president makes that decision then that's what will happen," Jaczko said during an interview. "But I have no intention of stepping down."

 

House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) called on Jaczko to resign this week after an internal agency watchdog report found the chairman had "strategically" withheld information from his NRC colleagues last year to halt the scientific review of the proposed nuclear waste dump under Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The Obama administration pulled support for developing the site last year, a decision the Government Accountability Office last month found to be the result of policy, as opposed to science (Greenwire, May 10).

 

Notably, NRC Inspector General Hubert Bell's June 6 report found that while Jaczko did not break the law, he did withhold information from his fellow commissioners to halt the review. Jaczko has since tried to refute those findings and said he plans to fulfill his full term as chairman through June 2013 (Greenwire, June 15).

 

Whitfield said in a statement yesterday that the inspector general's report casts doubt on Jaczko's ability to lead.

 

"I would be disappointed if President Obama would want Chairman Jaczko to continue to serve in his administration after the inspector general's report noted that Chairman Jaczko has been described as manipulative and as someone who withheld information and acted unilaterally on nuclear issues that are so important to this country," Whitfield said.

 

The White House was not immediately available to comment on the matter.

 

Jaczko, 40, has had an increasingly contentious relationship with members of Congress -- especially considering that he worked there for several years as a congressional science fellow in the office of Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), as a nuclear adviser to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and as a top aide to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is now the majority leader. Republicans have grumbled that in scotching the Yucca Mountain project, Jaczko is doing the bidding of Reid, a leading foe of the repository.

 

The years-long Yucca Mountain conflict peaked last year when the Department of Energy moved to pull its application to develop the site. NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board later blocked DOE's attempt to pull the application. DOE appealed the board's decision to the five-member commission, which currently seems to be deadlocked on the matter, although commissioners have not revealed their votes. Commissioner George Apostolakis recused himself from the case because he participated in the project's scientific review while working at DOE's Sandia National Laboratories.

 

The inspector general found Jaczko instructed NRC staff to stop reviewing the Yucca repository under guidance of a continuing resolution that Congress passed after failing to reach an agreement on the budget. Jaczko told NRC senior officials at the time that his instructions had the full backing of his colleagues, even though Republican Commissioner Kristine Svinicki was not informed of his intention to stop the review, and three other commissioners said they did not fully understand the implications of the chairman's directive, according to the report.

 

During the interview yesterday at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md., where he has served as chairman since 2009 after four years as a commissioner, Jaczko would not comment on the IG's report specifically but said he is comfortable with all of the decisions he has made since he's led the agency. He said his focus is on nuclear safety, not on political distractions, and that he is working to foster an environment of open communication within NRC. To that point, he said he has included time for extra discussions after commission meetings so members can confer about important issues.

 

"There are always going to be people who agree with you and disagree with you; that's the nature of this business," Jaczko said. "But I've heard very little complaints about what I do and how this agency has functioned since I've been chairman."

 

Handling the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, he added, is one of many topics the commission must address and he said the commission has made important strides under his leadership, including crafting policy related to emergency preparedness, overseeing various design certifications for plants and orchestrating a nationwide response to the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on March 11.

 

"This whole issue with regard to Yucca Mountain happened in October and November of last year -- this is old news for the commission," Jaczko said. "I've seen the staff perform very well here while I've been chairman."

 

House Republicans and other members of the commission may beg to differ.

 

Controversy over the shuttered repository 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas has been the topic of heated House hearings that are slated to reach into the summer. At a hearing before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Tuesday, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) made clear that he believes Jaczko violated the law by failing to keep his colleagues informed of his intentions for Yucca Mountain (Greenwire, June 14).

 

Jaczko would not comment on whether Democrats or the White House are supporting him as Whitfield calls for his resignation but did note that "everyone" has been very respectful of NRC's independent status.

 

Markey, Jaczko's former boss and a ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said at the Tuesday hearing that he has a hard time believing members of NRC did not understand what the chairman intended with the budgetary directive. "In my opinion they did not do their job, they had a responsibility," Markey said.

In the News...Politico Pro: Inhofe blasts Jaczko on NRC report

Politico Pro 

Inhofe blasts Jaczko on NRC report

By Darius Dixon

June 16, 2011

Link to Article 

The findings of the recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspector general report on Chairman Gregory Jaczko should bring new oversight of the agency, Sen. Jim Inhofe said Thursday.

"His conduct has clearing damaged the credibility of the agency and warrants oversight hearings by this committee," the Oklahoma Republican said at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing.

The IG's investigation focused on Jaczko's actions in shutting down the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Ultimately, the report cleared him of violating any laws, but the rest of the investigation detailed the chairman's actions to "strategically" withhold information about the process and strongly critiqued his management style.

"[W]hat I find most disconcerting in the IG's report is the image of a chairman who withholds information from his colleagues, acts unilaterally and rules by intimidation," Inhofe said.

"While the IG may have focused on the chairman's involvement with Yucca Mountain," he added, "I believe misconduct extends beyond that."

Inhofe mentioned his previously aired concerns with Jaczko's emergency declaration following the nuclear crisis in Japan and his banning fellow commissioners from entering the agency's response center.

"A true leader, when facing such extraordinary challenges, would marshal all resources at his disposal and seek out the best expertise he can," Inhofe said.

Instead, the chairman "selectively ignores commission procedures, discounting them as merely guidelines when questioned by the IG."

But committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) wasn't sold.

"It's my understanding that the IG found that the actions that the chairman took were consistent with law, guidance and his authority," she said. "I just wanted to put that in the record [because] it was such a blatant attack."

In the News...WSJ Editorial: The EPAs War on Jobs

Wall Street Journal Editorial

The EPA's War on Jobs

Coal is from Earth, Lisa Jackson is from mercury

JUNE 13, 2011

Link to Editorial  

President Obama's jobs council will make its first recommendations today on lifting hiring and strengthening the economy. Too bad the message doesn't seem to be reaching the Administration's regulators, in particular the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA is currently conducting a campaign against coal-fired power and one of its most destructive weapons is a pending regulation to limit mercury and other hazardous air pollutants like dioxins or acid gases that power plants emit. The 946-page rule mandates that utilities install "maximum achievable control technology" under the Clean Air Act-and even by the EPA's lowball estimates, it is the most expensive rule in the agency's history.

In 1990, Congress gave the EPA discretion to decide if mercury regulation is "necessary and appropriate," and the Clinton Administration did so in its final days. The Bush Administration created a modest mercury program, only to have it overturned by an appeals court on technical grounds in its final days. The case was still in litigation when Mr. Obama took office, and his appointees used the opening to strafe the power industry, proposing a much more stringent rule.

The EPA issued the utility rule in March, with only 60 days for public comment. Basic administrative practice usually affords between 120 and 180 days, especially for complex or costly regulations of this scale. The proposal was obviously rushed, with numerous errors like overstating U.S. mercury emissions by a factor of 1,000. The word in Washington is that the openly politicized process unsettled even the EPA's career staff.

The agency estimates that the utility rule will cost $10.9 billion annually but will yield as much as $140 billion in total health and environmental benefits. Sounds like a deal. But most of those alleged benefits are indirect-i.e., not from the mercury reductions that the rule is supposed to be for. Rather, they come from pollutants ("airborne particles") that the EPA already regulates under other parts of the Clean Air Act. A good analogy is a corporation double-counting revenue.

According to the EPA's own numbers, every dollar in direct benefits costs $1,847. The reason is that electric generation-yes, even demon coal-results in negligible quantities of air pollutants like mercury. And mercury is on the decline: In 2005, the entire U.S. coal fleet emitted 26% less than the EPA predicted.

The real goal of the EPA's rule is to shut down fossil fuel electric power in the name of climate change. The consensus estimate in the private sector is that the utility rule and eight others on the EPA docket will force the retirement of 60 out of the country's current 340 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity. Reliability downgrades will hit the South and Midwest where coal energy is concentrated. American Electric Power recently announced that the rules will force it to shut down five plants in West Virginia and Ohio, a quarter of its coal fleet.

The power industry estimates that the true costs of the utility rule will far exceed the EPA estimates, which of course will be passed to consumers and businesses as higher prices. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, normally a White House union ally, says the rule will destroy 50,000 jobs and another 200,000 down the supply chain. That's more jobs lost than if Boeing went bust.

Astonishingly, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson claimed in March that the utility rule is "expected to create jobs," because it will "increase demand for pollution control technology" and "new workers will be needed to install, operate, and maintain" it. In other words, the government should harm an industry and force it to ruin working assets so maybe other people can clean up the mess.

Such theories help explain why the economic recovery and job creation are far weaker than they ought to be, but the good news is that even many Democrats are beginning to push back against the EPA's willful damage. The least Congress can do is force the EPA to delay the final utility rule to allow for more public debate, though a better option would be to junk it.