Senator James M. Jeffords
Hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Oversight of Energy Permitting Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing, and a sincere thanks to all the witnesses, many of whom have traveled across the country to provide testimony to the Committee. The Committee will be examining several very important issues today, as we conduct oversight of energy project permitting. Though this is the first one this Congress, this is essentially the third hearing in the last year in which the Committee has examined environmental permitting related to energy projects. In the 108th Congress, we held both a natural gas and a gasoline supply hearing in which permitting issues were discussed. America needs a reliable, affordable, and environmentally friendly energy supply. I'm concerned, Mr. Chairman, that in our desire to adopt a national energy strategy, a goal I share, we may yield to premature calls to repeal or revise our federal environmental laws. These are important laws, important for the health of our citizens and our environment. In exercising our oversight responsibility, we must examine the effect of environmental laws, if any, on various sectors of the economy, including energy industries. Of course, however, this Committee's first and foremost responsibility is to assure that the nation's laws are protective of public health and the environment. It is our job also to set performance standards for industries like the natural gas or wind industry that are adequately protective and wherever possible, fuel neutral. These standards should not be skewed to protect any one industry, but should encourage sustainable economic development. We must be mindful that though we benefit from the use of natural gas and wind resources to generate electricity, heat our homes, and produce commodities there are costs as well. While we have improved public health by improving our air quality, we are also having real on-the-ground environmental impacts on our country's public and private lands, and our water and wildlife resources. I feel that a good understanding of these issues is extremely important. I think this is even more the case now that the Senate is putting together an Energy Bill. Therefore, I am pleased that we will hear from witnesses, both energy producers and individuals who have examined energy production sites, about the sufficiency of these laws in protecting the environment. Moreover, whatever contribution the costs of environmental compliance has made to the overall price of energy development in our country, I am very skeptical that these costs are a primary driver behind the recent price fluctuations we have seen. We routinely implement our environmental laws in a deliberate and measured way. In the case of Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act requirements, all of them have been phased-in over long time frames in consultation with industry. We have done this specifically to try to avoid market shocks and price spikes. These are not new requirements, they are not a surprise, and the costs associated with meeting them are known. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 has largely been heralded as a success as well. It has made federal agencies take a hard look at the potential environmental consequences of their energy permitting actions. It has also involved the public into the agency decision-making in a way unlike any other statute. We must not sacrifice our environmental laws to pressures from the power industry. The energy future of our nation relies on our ability to find ways to harness our current resources in cleaner ways and develop cleaner alternative energy sources. Thank you again, Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing. In covering the issues I have outlined, it will be a comprehensive look at several areas of permitting. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses.