Opening Statement of Senator James Inhofe
Environment and Public Works Business Meeting
Thursday, February 12, 2009
First, I would like to note that despite concerns to the contrary, Chairman Boxer and I successfully worked together in the 110th Congress to get several things accomplished, most notably the long overdue Water Resources Development Act (WRDA07). I look forward to an even more productive working relationship in the 111th Congress. The Environment and Public Works Committee has a long history of working in a close bipartisan fashion despite major policy differences, and I’m sure that Senator Boxer and I will continue that tradition.
I would like to officially welcome the new members of the Committee. On the Democratic side we are joined by Senators Jeff Merkley (OR) and Tom Udall (NM). On the Republican side we are rejoined by Senators Specter and Crapo, both of whom are returning to EPW. Welcome to everyone.
At the start of a new Congress it is customary and very appropriate to lay out goals for what we hope to accomplish. Not surprisingly, I have a few thoughts I would like to share.
Certainly, one of the greatest challenges facing the Committee this year is the reauthorization of the highway bill that expires this September. The current program is in need of major reform and refocusing, and the Highway Trust Fund is going to be insolvent. I believe if we are going to finish on time, the bill must be off the Senate floor prior to the rush of appropriations bills in the summer. This means we have to mark it up in the next 2 or 3 months. Obviously this is a herculean task, but I look forward to taking on the challenge with the Chair and my Committee colleagues.
Two more periodic bills I would like to see us address this Congress are the reauthorization of the Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). EDA’s programs actually expired on September 30, 2008. I introduced a reauthorization bill last summer and worked with the majority to report a bipartisan bill out of committee. Unfortunately, it was not enacted. I am reintroducing my bill today, and I hope we can work together to ensure the continuation of this effective agency and its programs.
I believe we should work on another WRDA bill this Congress. In order to preserve the proper authorization-then-appropriations process, we must pass authorization bills on a regular schedule. Seven years between bills, like last time, is much too long. In addition to any Member project requests we receive, we will have several policy issues to address in the next WRDA bill. These issues – such as levee and dam safety, the Inland Waterways and Harbor Maintenance Trust Funds and water supply pricing – need solutions strongly supported by both sides of the aisle, and I am confident we can develop such solutions.
With some fiscal discipline and sound senior management, the Superfund program can work efficiently. However, we need to make some improvements. Specifically, reduce bureaucratic and redundant administrative costs and improve effective site management. As a Committee we will have a full plate in regards to brownfields, coal combustion waste, and the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) issues. My hope is that we will take a bipartisan, commonsense, and practical approach to addressing these issues while protecting both human health and the environment.
There are several pressing concerns that this Committee may be asked to consider, and I hope we do so circumspectly, including the potential expansion of the federal jurisdiction over waters of the United States. I, along with many land owners, family farmers, and county officials are understandably concerned with any attempt to expand the federal reach over state waters and personal properties.
Throughout my tenure on the Environment and Public Works Committee, I’ve supported legislation that protects cities and states from unfunded federal mandates. With that in mind, it is my hope the Committee reauthorizes the State Revolving Loan Funds for drinking and waste water. Also, we need to pursue policies that better represent the unique needs of our nation’s lower income rural communities and continue to make progress on security issues at our nation’s drinking water and waste water facilities.
Over the last several decades, scientists, EPA, and the regulated community have learned much about how to measure and protect against threats to the environment and human health. We continue to hear that efforts will be made to rewrite longstanding statutes regulating risk assessment, chemical review and science policy at EPA. If these proposals are brought forth, rest assured that I will continue my long-standing support and insistence that EPA regulations be based on validated science and the use of risk-based analysis, including the consideration of costs to the private sector. We must not allow regulatory decisions to be based on precaution, fear or uncertainty; rather they must be based on sound science.
Recently, the U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service finalized several rules that build common sense into the regulatory process under the Endangered Species Act. Despite much activist hand wringing, the polar bear decision, the 4(d) Rule, and the Section 7 “consultation” rule revisions are all incremental attempts to clarify and streamline a very cumbersome law. The practical effect of these actions will help focus scarce resources on the tangible actions we can take to protect species rather than discourage economic development. I sincerely hope that during these difficult times Congress will not waste time attempting to undo such minor reforms to a decades-old law.
The Chairman has also indicated that climate change will remain a top priority. While I remain opposed to the regulation of CO2, I am committed to ensuring that any cap-and-trade proposal will protect workers and families from higher energy prices, will have realistic targets that reflect levels of reachable technology, and will be global in nature.
Certainly, a part of the climate change debate is nuclear energy. When managed safely, it is vital to achieving our energy security and clean air goals. It is my hope that this Committee will continue its rigorous oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and closely examine Commission nominees for diligence and fairness in their leadership and decision-making.
On other air issues, I am happy to see more funding going for the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, and I will work to continue to support this cost effective program. The Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) is also at the top of my list of concerns. As the Committee weighs its options on this matter, I am hopeful that we will resist activists’ calls to overreach and instead choose to work towards a similar consensus as was achieved during the release of the initial CAIR rule – the benefits of which were estimated by EPA to be over 25 times greater than their costs
On a jurisdictional matter, I hope that the Chair will agree with me that we need to aggressively exercise our jurisdiction over the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Despite the enormous amount of attention and the eventual legislative enactment of the greatly expanded RFS, I was disappointed that we held just one hearing on the RFS in the 110th Congress. It is our delegated responsibility to exercise oversight, to reassess, and to legislate on the Renewable Fuels Standard. I sincerely hope that will occur in the 111th Congress.
I also want to comment on the newly created Green Jobs and the New Economy Subcommittee. I am hopeful that as we hold hearings and examine legislative initiatives related to green job creation, we stay mindful of any negative consequences these initiatives potentially place on American consumers and businesses. Beyond the billions spent on today’s current programs, how much and at what pace is an appropriate level to subsidize and mandate renewable energies? What regions of the country win and lose? Most importantly, we must not predetermine the winners and losers. From nuclear energy, which provides 74% of our nation’s non-emitting electricity, to emerging alternatives like natural gas-powered vehicles and geothermal heat pumps, this new Subcommittee must be balanced in its examination of the economic feasibility, the emissions improvements, and the time frames for deployment.
I am pleased to see the Chairman has created an Oversight Subcommittee. My hope is that we will work in a bipartisan manner to ensure that effective oversight is conducted in a timely and vigilant manner. Oversight is not only a Congressional necessity but an essential tool to ensure that the laws work and are being administered in an effective and efficient manner.
Thank you, Madame Chairman, and I look forward to a busy year and working with you to get things done that will benefit this great country.
# # #