Vitter Statement for Committee Business Meeting
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Business Meeting
February 6, 2014
Madame Chairman. I would like to begin by thanking you for holding today's mark up. I'm pleased that we are able to begin the process of moving this important legislation through our Committee. As I mentioned in Tuesday's hearing, the Committee process is a crucial part of the legislative process. I'm also pleased that we'll be holding a markup next month on legislation that did not make it on the today's agenda.
Included on today's docket are a number of important pieces of legislation to my constituents in Louisiana. In particular - the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act of 2014 (NAWCA), a bill which I have sponsored along with the Chairman and many other members of the Committee.
NAWCA is a program important to sportsmen that expired in 2012. This bill is significant in enhancing and conserving wetlands that are crucial to migratory birds.
More than $1.1 billion in NAWCA grants have helped to conserve important wildlife habitat across North America. That money has been leveraged by more than $2.2 billion in required matching funds from private donors and an additional $1 billion in donations. That's three dollars of private money for every dollar of federal money that has gone toward improving more than 26.5 million acres of bird habitat.
The restoration and improvement of 26.5 million acres benefits all citizens, including people who enjoy watching birds, appreciate the landscapes, or hunt and fish. Earlier this week, a group of duck hunters from Louisiana visited my office to share the benefits they've personally seen from this program. They advocated for us in Congress to move forward with this important reauthorization, and I'll be pleased to tell them that we're following through with their request today.
The amendment I offered to NAWCA recognizes the difficult fiscal situation our country faces. The amendment reduces the amount of money that is authorized to be spent on the NAWCA program by $20 million each year - for a total of $100 million in reduced appropriations over a 5-year period. I know some of my colleagues would like to see the authorization levels lower and others would like to the level increased or kept the same, but I am confident that level we have in the bill is an appropriate compromise.
In addition to NAWCA, I would like to mention S. 51, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Reauthorization Act. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is responsible for overseeing a significant amount of funding as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The EPW Committee has jurisdiction over the Foundation and moving legislation makes clear that we plan to do active oversight as the process of spending that money moves forward.
On the other hand, I am concerned with some of the nominees the Committee considered. In particular, I am concerned about Rhea Suh, President Obama's nominee to be the Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks at the Department of the Interior.
Over the past four years, Ms. Suh has served in a key role at Interior implementing, in her words, "every single one of the major policy priorities from Secretary Salazar to now Secretary Jewell." During her time at Interior, the Department placed a moratorium on oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico - which was absolutely devastating to Louisiana's local economy. The Department has pushed forward policies related to hydraulic fracturing that have the potential to make it more difficult to develop our nation's abundant natural resources on public lands and federal waters. Fracking is also a big part of Louisiana's economy.
During her time at Interior, the Department entered into closed-door settlement agreements with radical environmental groups that could force more than 250 animals onto the endangered species list and lock up millions of acres of public and private lands.
She served in a top position at Interior when the Office of Surface Mining pressured contractors to rewrite an estimate that showed its stream buffer zone rule would have significant job losses. And, she's served in a senior role when the Department pushed out a rule that allows windmills to obtain 30-year permits to kill bald eagles.
During her confirmation hearing, I was hopeful that Ms. Suh would be able to explain how she would help move the Department in a different direction if she is promoted to a new role. Unfortunately, the hearing did not alleviate my concerns.
When given the opportunity to retract a statement that natural gas development was a "threat," Ms. Suh failed to do so. When asked whether it was a priority to increase natural gas development on our public lands if she was confirmed, she refused to endorse a pro-production policy. When asked about her role in the policies that I discussed a moment ago, she failed to explain how she served in a key role in implementing "every single one of the major policy priorities" and yet did not object to any of the policies that have been so harmful to my constituents in Louisiana.
In questions for the record, she provided evasive answers about federal contracts that are directly under her purview. In those same questions, she would not guarantee that grants distributed to radical environmental groups at the foundations where she previously worked were not used by those groups to sue the agencies that she hopes to oversee.
Her efforts in helping Interior implement an anti-development agenda concern me about what will happen to the energy industry and private property holders in my state and across the nation if we don't change course, and so I cannot support her nomination.
Once again, I thank Chairman Boxer for holding this mark up, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to get many of these bills across the Senate floor and to the President's desk for signature.