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, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Proposed Fiscal Year 2025 Budget” with FWS Director Martha Williams.

Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) as delivered.

“Thank you Chairman Carper for holding today’s hearing.

“Welcome again to Director Williams, it’s always great to see you and your staff. I appreciate you coming before the Committee today to discuss the Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget for 2025.

“In previous hearings, we have discussed my frustration that the consultation process under the Endangered Species Act has delayed critical projects in West Virginia and elsewhere…and by the way thank you for coming to West Virginia very early in your tenure, very appreciative of that.”

“Our state’s department of highways has faced delays on road and bridge projects.

“And our state’s DEP (department of environmental protection) has dealt with delays on active mining permits, and on projects to remediate abandoned mine sites through the AML program.

“If I sound like a broken record I guess that’s because I am.

“Those statements were taken from my opening statement at a hearing held around this time last year, and here we are again seemingly in pretty close to the same position.

“My staff has been meeting with your staff regularly and I appreciate that, for two years now, and effective communication and timeframes on consultations have only marginally improved.  

“Currently the Field Office has agreements with the West Virginia Department of Highways, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Gas and Oil association of West Virginia to fund staff positions, but not all of those positions have been filled.

“So the office’s workforce is being supplemented considerably by outside groups, and that was some of the substance of our conversation two years ago,

“State agencies in West Virginia continue to be bogged down by a back and forth with the Field Office on details, which, at times, concern issues beyond the jurisdiction or expertise of your agency, in some cases requiring project details on mines that date back to the 1950s.

“In May, the West Virginia Coal Association issued a notice of intent to sue the Service for violating the 2020 Biological Opinion for the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Projects.

“The 2020 Biological Opinion establishes a programmatic approach to consultations on OSMRE projects and outlines coordination and elevation procedures to expedite reviews and effectively resolve disputes.

“According to West Virginia’s notice of intent to sue, the Field Office has been blatantly disregarding this Biological Opinion.

“Specifically, the Field Office is not adhering to the 30-day coordination deadlines set by that 2020 document.

“And just a couple of months ago, the Field Office issued a ‘permitting template,’ which was intended to expedite this application process

“However, the information required by that template goes above and beyond the requirements of the 2020 Biological Opinion and is almost to the level of information needed to complete a full formal consultation or an environmental impact statement.

“Some of these projects covered by the 2020 document are as simple as ventilation holes and yet, the Field Office seems unwilling to complete the consultation until they have studied the history of the mine dating back decades and analyzed even the types of construction equipment that will be used.

“West Virginia DEP is having to elevate some of these consultations as emergent just to keep the mines in the state operating.

“While my state is already facing problems with ESA consultations, the Service in D.C. here is rolling back common sense reforms that were implemented in 2019 and will make ESA implementation even more complicated.

“Specifically, the Service reinstated the ‘blanket 4(d) rule,’ which effectively treats all threatened species as endangered.

“The Service will no longer consider economic impacts when making species listing decisions.

“The Service removed language in its Section 7 interagency coordination process that limits reviews to ‘activities that are reasonably certain to occur,’ which allows Field Offices to assess activities that are well beyond the scope of a proposed project.

“The Service rescinded the definition of ‘habitat’ in determining critical habitat designations.

“So, I am a cosponsor of Congressional Review Act resolutions led by Senators Lummis, Ricketts, and Sullivan to overrule these three regulatory actions by the Service.

“I appreciate a lot, the dialogue between your staff and mine over the past couple of years, but we are at another crossroads again and I look forward to learning from you what solutions we can use together to address these endless paperwork exercises and delays.

“With that, I yield back.”

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