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Westerman Holds First Hearing as Chairman of Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations

July 18, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Bruce Westerman (AR-04) conducted his first hearing Tuesday (July 18) as chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations. The hearing was entitled, “Examining Impacts of Federal Natural Resources Laws Gone Astray, Part II.”

Westerman was named chairman on June 29. At the time, Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (UT-01) said, “I’m excited to announce changes to our subcommittee leadership as we press forward with creative solutions from addressing our wildfire crisis and promoting forest resiliency to modernizing infrastructure and outdated environmental laws.”

Following is Westerman’s opening statement (as prepared):

Today, we will examine the implementation of two significant laws – The Marine Mammal Protection Act, or the MMPA, and the National Historic Preservation Act, also referred to as NHPA.  While this is my first hearing as the Chairman of the Subcommittee, this is the second hearing in a series the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee is holding to examine the impacts of federal natural resource laws that have stretched beyond Congress’ original intent.  As a professional engineer and forester by trade, many of these issues hit close to home for me, and I am committed to pursuing thoughtful oversight with a scientific approach using my professional expertise.  I look forward to working with Ranking Member McEachin, and the other members of this Subcommittee.

As this Committee has previously explored, numerous federal laws allow the Executive Branch to enjoy far more power and exercise more discretion in implementing these laws than Congress ever intended.  Last May, the Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss with those impacted how agencies were improperly implementing the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Indian Reorganization Act, and the Wilderness Act.

As we continue our review, we have found other instances of federal agencies expanding their roles through unclear and overreaching regulations.  In many of these cases, the expanded implementation of these laws has led to inefficient and burdensome regulatory processes, excessive amounts of litigation, and overall adverse effects for the American taxpayer.

The MMPA was enacted to minimize harm to marine mammals due to human behavior.  Regulations to protect marine mammals, however, have become extremely restrictive and oppressive without yielding significantly greater protections for these species.  For example, it is evident that the inefficient manner in which regulations are implemented under the MMPA has led to severe delays in permit issuances for entities wishing to carry out their operations while sincerely ensuring the safety of marine mammals.

One of our witnesses today will describe how this lengthy and complicated process affects seismic surveyors’ efforts to explore our country’s critical offshore oil and gas resources.  Seismic surveyors have a history of safely operating in our nation’s oceans while providing necessary information to initiate offshore energy production.  We depend on such energy production for our country’s energy independence.  Seismic surveyors, however, have faced a long uphill battle in obtaining the necessary permits, with some companies still waiting to receive their authorizations today after beginning the process over 6 years ago.  

This morning we will also hear testimony related to NHPA.  Congress passed this Act with the intention of protecting America’s most treasured historic sites from destruction or substantial alteration.  In past years, the Act has provided success in preserving some of our most cherished historic sites. 

Unfortunately, today the implementation of this Act has expanded beyond its original mission of protecting cherished historic sites, and has created an enormous burden for many federal agencies.

Under Section 106 of the law, Federal agencies are required to consider any possible impacts to historic sites when issuing permits and approving projects.  Traditionally the law was intended to allow agencies to consult the National Register of Historic Places for any impacts of their actions.  However, today this has evolved into a process that is extremely time consuming and burdensome, causing major delays for the approval of projects and permits, even if there is little expected impact to historic sites.

The experience of one of our witnesses here with us today, Ms. Patricia Brandt, also exemplifies how this law is misapplied and vulnerable to abuse.  Her neighborhood of Eastmoreland, in Portland, Oregon, is currently under consideration for designation as a historic district on the National Register.  Her experience highlights the difficult and confusing processes required for opposing listings under National Park Service rules, and exposes how this federal process is often used to bypass local decision-making on such matters.

As we examine issues that have arisen from the improper implementation of these laws, I  hope our discussion today will bring us closer to potential solutions that bring the application of these laws back to Congress’s original intent.  I look forward to hearing from our Members and witnesses as to how we can accomplish this for the MMPA and NHPA.

I thank our witnesses for being here today, and I look forward to hearing your testimony.  I now recognize the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, Mr. McEachin of Virginia, for five minutes.