I assume today’s business meeting will be the last one for 2011, so I want first to mentioned H.R. 362, a bill that would redesignate the Federal Building and United States Courthouse located at 200 East Wall Street in Midland, Texas, as the “George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush United States Courthouse and George Mahon Federal Building.” I hope that we can consider this early next year.
As I have stated previously, I have numerous concerns with the nomination of Rebecca Wodder to be the Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks at the Department of Interior. Her candidacy has generated considerable controversy in Congress due to her inability to clarify and explain many of the statements she made and positions she took while leading American Rivers, a large environmental group actively engaged in suing to stop economic development projects around the country.
During nomination hearings in not only our own Committee, but the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources as well, Ms. Wodder had several opportunities to elucidate her record and qualifications, and clarify how she would undertake the role for which she was nominated. However, her testimony only further clouded her positions, raising more serious questions about the suitability of her nomination. At these hearings, Ms. Wodder refused to retract her previous statement that hydraulic fracturing “has a nasty track record of creating a toxic chemical soup that pollutes groundwater and streams, threatening public health and wildlife…” Yet, she admitted in written responses to questions from me that she is “not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water…”
Miraculously just this morning, I was advised by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that in fact they have preliminary findings which suggest that there is a link between ground water contamination and fracking. While I have yet to see the data, I find this extremely curious since about a month ago my staff was advised by the Region 8 EPA Administrator that the last round of samples didn’t yield any new information and at that time had no evidence that hydraulic fracking was the cause of the groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming. These findings are not only interesting in their content but their timing as well.
Also during the nomination hearings, more inconsistencies came to light regarding the number of lawsuits in which American Rivers was involved over the course of Ms. Wodder’s leadership. When asked if she would recuse herself from decisions directly related to lawsuits filed by American Rivers, she replied, “Actually the organization that I used to lead has been only involved in a very small number of cases -- over my 16-and-a-half years, only 16 cases. So it would be a small number to be recused from.” Yet, according to legal research cited in a July 2011 letter to Ms. Wodder from nearly 40 members of the House of Representatives, American Rivers sued or was a party to 150 lawsuits from 1988 to 2011, 115 during her tenure, most of which were against the federal government. The discrepancy in these numbers and Ms. Wodder’s is not inconsequential and is seriously troubling.
The nomination hearings revealed a nominee whose actual views and intentions going forward are unclear. Her comments, rather than illuminating her views, only raised more questions. Her opposition to energy development is extremely troubling for many who believe energy production is one of the most effective ways for this country to create more jobs. For these reasons, she should not be confirmed as the next Assistant Secretary in the Department of the Interior and I intend to place a hold on her nomination until all these questions are sufficiently answered.
Finally, regarding the FBI Headquarters, the resolution we are voting on today would authorize the Administrator of GSA to proceed with a private sector lease transaction for a consolidated headquarters facility for the FBI. On July 13, 2011, the Committee requested a study from GSA and FBI on recommended strategies moving forward. This resolution is consistent with the FBI recommendation submitted on August 26, 2011 and I will support it. However, the next step will be authorizing the actual lease, which I understand will be done in a separate resolution.
My concern is with this next step because promises are being made that I believe will not be met. As I understand it, the existing Hoover Building, which is estimated to be worth more than $500 million, will be sold, and existing leases will be consolidated at a savings of $100 million plus per year. Apparently, these combined will result in zero net costs to the taxpayer because the amount of “lease” payments currently being paid by the FBI will be sufficient for the cost of the new headquarters “lease” payment.
To say that I am skeptical of the validity of this is an understatement. The Federal Government has a poor track record of accurately projecting future costs. For example, when Medicare was established in the 1960s, it was estimated that the hospital insurance portion of the program, Part A, would cost about $9 billion annually in 1990. In fact the cost was $67 billion and, as we all know, it continues to increase.
My point is we can ill afford to commit ourselves to a yet another project with cost projections that continue to escalate. Before I agree to the final phase of this project, I want to make sure the numbers really work and we are not in for a cost escalation ride. Thus, I am pleased that we will be receiving monthly updates from both GSA and the FBI and will be closely monitoring those reports.
I thank the Chair.