Statement of Sen. James Inhofe
National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act
July 30, 1997

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing today. I think S. 1059 begins to solve many problems that may currently exist with usage on our nations refuges. This bill, for the most part, will benefit not only the refuge system as a whole, but the plants and wildlife they protect. There are, however, a couple of concerns that have been raised with regard to uses of refuge land that are currently acceptable, but under S. 1059, may compel Fish and Wildlife Service to change their view.

First and foremost, S. 1059 is conspicuously silent on the issue of utility company usage of refuge land, especially rights-of-way for roads, electric power transmission and distribution lines, oil and gas pipelines, and telecommunications. Under current regulations, permits for these type activities are issued for long periods of time, sometimes up to 50 years. This long term permit reflects the time and cost of such an endeavor, which can register between $500,000 and $1 million per mile of transmission line. Additionally, permits of this length help to maintain a steady and constant stream of utilities needed by the people of this country. My concern is that the language in this bill could effectively limit that permit time to 10 years, subjecting responsible utility providers to unnecessary review, and possible re-routing, based on the lack of compelling science and data. Secondly, I am concerned about the emergency authority created within this bill. We are granting the Secretary widespread discretion in suspending activities within the refuge, but providing no opportunity for the affected party or parties to respond or appeal the decision. Additionally, the Secretary does not have to consider the potential cost of his action. I am concerned that this could be significant with regard to some activities, especially power lines.

This bill moves us in the right direction. I look forward to addressing the concerns that I have raised with Secretary Babbitt. I feel comfortable that the members of this committee and the administration can move to solidify the position of FWS as stated in a colloquy on the house floor between Congressmen Young and Saxton. Thank you, Mr. Chairman