Today during a visit to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, Interior Secretary Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack highlighted steps the federal government is taking to prepare for the wildfire season. Both Secretary Jewell and Secretary Vilsack highlighted the ongoing effort for collaboration between federal, state, local governments and private citizens.
But there is more that the federal government can be doing. This year, the fire potential is predicted to be above normal in much of the West. Active forest management is a key to fire prevention. According to DOI’s own press release, “more than 590 million acres of public lands are in significant need of restoration, including thinning and prescribed burning.” Chairman Hastings and members of the Committee on Natural Resources have been advocating for better forest management that would significantly lessen the threat of wildfires. Active forest management costs far less than fighting wildfires.
Last month, Chairman Hastings introduced H.R. 1526, the “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act.” This legislation renews the federal government’s commitment to manage forest resources for the benefit of rural schools and counties by allowing active forest management. Due to the lack of healthy forest management, last year 44 times as many acres of U.S. Forest land burned in wildfire than were responsibly harvested.
At a Committee hearing on April 11th, witnesses agreed that healthy forest management will create jobs and prevent catastrophic wildfires. At the hearing, two additional bills to help prevent forest fires H.R. 1345, “Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013” by Representative Paul Gosar and H.R. 818, “Healthy Forest Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013” byRepresentative Tipton were examined. These common sense bills are a positive step forward to managing America’s forests in a safe, healthy, and productive manner that allows communities to grow their economies while at the same time protecting them from devastating wildfires.
Lawmakers from both parties are pouncing on the federal government's attempt to regulate hydraulic fracturing, the natural gas extraction method also known as fracking, even before the draft rules have been released.
At a hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, Republicans accused the Interior Department of executive overreach and heard from a number of state officials and gas industry executives who asked for relief from federal rules. Democrats countered by warning of industry pressure and ineffective safety standards.
With Interior expected to release draft rules governing fracking on public lands in the coming weeks, a core disagreement dividing legislators comes down to who should regulate fracking: the federal government or the states.
"States are able to carefully craft regulations to meet the unique geologic and hydrologic needs of their states," said Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the chairman of the House committee, who claimed that federal rules would be redundant, costly and would needlessly delay gas production.
"The regulatory needs of North Dakota versus Ohio and New Mexico are vastly different," he added. "Imposing a one-size-fits-all regulatory structure, as the Obama administration is attempting to do, will not work."
"States have successfully regulated more then 1.2 million hydraulic fracturing operations spanning 60 years," argued Montana state Sen. Alan Olson (R). "New federal mandates are not necessary given their exemplary safety record."
Democrats, though, called on the federal government to step in and insure uniform safety standards across the country.
"State regulations vary widely in their requirements and in the stringency of those requirements — and the efficacy varies as well," countered Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.).
"That's why it's important that the Interior Department put in place a regulatory floor of safety measures to assure that there are at least minimal protections in place on all public lands in all states," he added.
In using the technique, which some find controversial, drillers pump water, sand and chemicals into rock formations at a high pressure to open up seams and allow gas to escape.
The new proposal will be the first safety update for the practice in 30 years and will likely require drillers to disclose the chemicals they use, impose standards on well integrity and manage "flowback water" which returns to the surface after extracting the gas.
At the hearing, Democrats also expressed concerns that the Interior Department is already caving to industry pressure.
"Under intense pressure from the industry and their allies in Congress, the Interior Department appears to be making the fracking rule weaker, not stronger," claimed Holt, who referred to leaked versions of the rule that seem to scale back chemical and well safety standards.
"Weakening these key requirements is troubling to me and I think to many of my colleagues and to the American people," he added.
On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell repeated that the department was "very close" to unveiling draft rules on fracking, and that they would come in a matter of "weeks, not months."
Jewell denied that the proposed rules will cave to industry demands.
“I would say that the fracking rules are not bowing to industry pressure or environmental pressure. They are taking the best science available,” she told reporters on Tuesday.
In January, the Interior Department withdrew a previous fracking regulation proposal after a backlash from both environmental and oil and gas industry groups.
The department says it is now "making improvements to the draft proposal in order to maximize flexibility, facilitate coordination with state practices and ensure that operators on public lands implement best practices," according to Interior spokesman Blake Androff.
After the draft rules are released and the public submits comments, Androff said that the administration's final rule "will ensure that operators apply proven cost-effective safety and environmental protection processes when engaging in hydraulic fracturing on our public lands."
“We can’t afford a situation where speculators artificially manipulate markets by buying up oil, creating the perception of a shortage, and driving prices higher.”
— President Obama, April 17, 2012
According to a recent research study by professors at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, oil speculation has little effect on oil price volatility. This study said that oil price volatility over the past 10 years has been “largely due to long-term shifts in fundamentals, namely the rise of China and India whose growing thirst for petroleum drives up the price.”