Click here to watch Ranking Member Capito’s opening remarks from the committee hearing.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing titled, “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Proposed Fiscal Year 2024 Budget.”
Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) as delivered.
“Thank you, Chairman Carper. And thank you, Director Williams for being here. And thank you for the open door of communication, and the visit to West Virginia, certainly appreciate that.
“We have discussed in previous hearings the frustrations that I’ve had with the delays that consultation under the Endangered Species Act has added to projects in West Virginia and elsewhere.
“Our state Department of Transportation has faced delays in road and bridge projects.
“Our Department of Environmental Protection has dealt with delays in consultation on not only active mining permits, but also on projects to remediate our abandoned mine sites through the AML program.
“Local government officials have come to me to express frustration with delays to water and sewer projects.
“And private industry has faced delays due to a backlog of ESA consultation requests.
“So you heard many of these concerns from when you came to West Virginia, and when we talked on the phone most recently, and I appreciate the fact that you do listen and try to make those things better.
“I do want to acknowledge and thank the Elkins Field Office for its work on the biological opinions on two key projects in West Virginia: the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Nucor’s steel sheet mill.
“I also want to acknowledge the additional resources that you have allotted to reviewing projects in West Virginia through creating three new full-time positions in the Elkins Field Office, and by detailing staff from elsewhere in the Service to help address the backlog of project reviews in our state.
“However, more work is needed and the Service must better utilize its resources to ensure the projects are reviewed in a timely manner.
“Section 7 consultations under the Endangered Species Act are the poster child for project delays and bureaucratic roadblocks in the federal environmental review and permitting process.
“Fairly or not, other federal agencies often cite the slow Section 7 consultations as the justification for not advancing their own permitting processes.
“This administration continues to blame these delays solely on a lack of funding and staffing.
“Currently, West Virginia state agencies, the private sector, and even other federal agencies are funding positions at the Service’s Field Office in Elkins.
“This feels like West Virginians are kind of getting taxed twice to do the same work that the Service does.
“We even experience delays with getting the very paperwork in place that establishes cooperative agreements for my state’s agencies to even use the taxpayer dollars to fund staff for the Field Office.
“West Virginia Department of Highways has been funding a position at the Field Office for more than 10 years.
“Let me say that again, 10 years.
“Even so, the West Virginia DOH is willing to fund a second position at the Field Office to move consultations for roads and bridges through the process. There’s a lot of money flowing on these roads and bridges projects.
“But unfortunately, the West Virginia DOH has been locked in back-and-forth negotiations with the Field Office for months over how to do just that.
“I do not believe that adding a second position with the same duties should take months to negotiate after 10 years of experience of working the same kind of agreement.
“Additionally, the Process Agreement between West Virginia DOH, the Federal Highways, and the Service, which we discussed during your visit last August, still has not been finalized nine months later.
“The backlog of biological assessments and consultations seems to never end, and the recent species listings and rulemaking by the Service don’t seem to be helpingthe problem.
“The Service admits that Northern Long-Eared Bat populations are declining due to effects separate and apart from infrastructure projects or economic development activities.
“One of the delayed projects is very important in my state, the Coalfields Expressway, which recently received a rural grant through the IIJA.
“There are similar stories all across the country, and they demonstrate that there is a failure of the federal government’s incoherent policies and implementation.
“Just in the past two weeks, the Senate has passed three [resolutions] of disapproval on Fish and Wildlife regulatory actions that have significant consequences on landowners and project developers.
“On the one hand, we have President Biden trumpeting the IIJA, and at the same time, the administration is throwing wrench after wrench into the planning and construction process for key infrastructure projects.
“The Biden administration’s alleged statements of support for key infrastructure projects do not match the actions, and so that historic investment, the good it can do, and the jobs and tax revenues it would support, is withering on the vine.
“The Service must start striking a balance between recovering species and protecting American livelihoods.
“With that, Mr. Chairman, I turn it back to you.”
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