First I would like to congratulate Senator Boxer on assuming the chairmanship of this important Committee. 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. Over the last four years we were able to accomplish a lot, such as the Highway Bill, the Renewable Fuels standard, the nuclear provisions in the Energy Bill, WRDA (at least through the Senate), and many other important pieces of legislation and oversight. I’m sure we will continue that trend.
While Senator Boxer is the first woman to chair EPW, she is actually the second Californian. The first was Senator Leland Stanford who chaired the Committee from 1887-1893. He was one of the first Republicans in California, founder of Stanford University, and as Governor, credited with keeping California in the Union during the Civil War. Senator Boxer, I’m sure you will measure up.
I would like to welcome the new members of the Committee. On the Democratic side we are joined by Senators Ben Cardin, Bernie Sanders, Amy Kolbuchar, and Sheldon Whitehouse. On the Republican side we are joined by Senator’s Larry Craig, Lamar Alexander, and Craig Thomas who is returning to EPW after being off last Congress. Welcome to everyone.
There are a number of major issues that need to be addressed this Congress and I wanted to highlight just a few.
The renewable fuels program is a very popular issue within our jurisdiction. It’s so popular that it’s being discussed in terms of other Committees and other pieces of legislation such as the Farm Bill. I hope that whatever happens on this issue in this Congress, that it happens here in this Committee. Although I am committed to reducing U.S. consumption of Middle East oil, I am deeply concerned of the unintended consequences of sharp increases to the renewable fuels mandate. I have already heard from a variety of livestock producers across the country that the current mandate has hurt their businesses due to higher feed costs. And I am far from alone in my concern – even the Renewable Fuels Association – big ethanol’s lobbying group – has expressed concern with premature increases.
Another priority I look forward to working with our new Chair on is the long-overdue Water Resources Development Act. We made significant progress last Congress and got very close to a final conference agreement. I am hopeful that we can work together to finish this bill as early as possible in this Congress, so that we can get back on track with a biennial WRDA process.
Chairman Boxer has committed to moving climate legislation this year and I look forward to examining each proposal. The upcoming assessment of climate science that the UN will soon release shows that livestock emit more greenhouse gases than cars and other forms of transportation. Are we going to ban beef? And what about power plants? Madame Chairman, California may have no coal plants, but what about the 1100 in the rest of the country?
The fact is: none of the bills I have seen meet the minimum criteria set forth in the Byrd-Hagel and Bingaman resolutions -- that they don't harm the economy and bring in developing countries. And they don't meet what I think is an even more important criteria -- that they actually accomplish something.
Over the past three years, one of my priority areas of oversight has been grants management at the EPA. Over the previous ten years regardless of Administration, the OMB, GAO, and EPA Inspector General designated grants management as a severe agency weakness. Through this Committee's oversight EPA has taken some positive steps. EPA is competing discretionary grants and it has created a new Web site with the most publicly available information ever provided on grants and recipients. The EPA has also adopted a new policy requiring measurable environmental outcomes from grants, and it conducts new financial oversight of non-profit groups to avoid the problem of federal dollars going to lobbying and partisan activities. I think our grants oversight was a positive example of how oversight can be both bipartisan and environmentally beneficial, it does not have to be overly partisan.
Finally, this Committee has a long bipartisan history of moving nominations through the Committee process in a timely fashion, regardless of which party controls the White House and which party controls the Senate. I hope this tradition continues.