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Op-Eds and Speeches

Chairman Hastings' Remarks at the Annual Meeting of the National Water Resources Association

Today, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) delivered the following prepared remarks at the National Water Resources Association Annual Meeting, highlighting hydropower as a clean, renewable energy resource; California water issues; and the need to update and improve the Endangered Species Act:

“Thank you for that kind introduction, Jim. It’s a pleasure once again to be here.

As many of you know, I represent a district in central Washington State. Of course, I’d like to say that our area is the most productive agricultural region in our nation. Yet, that would be unfair because there are many other arid desert areas have been transformed because of legendary Bureau of Reclamation projects.

These projects, including hundreds of dams and thousands of miles of canals, have not only transformed the West into what it is today, but they provide food and fiber for billions across the country and the world. When consumers go to the grocery store even in places like Washington, DC they can choose and enjoy fruits and vegetables grown from these western irrigated lands.

The water used for these crops comes from storage reservoirs behind dams that also provide emissions-free hydropower. In fact, the Pacific Northwest region is the least carbon-emitting area of our Nation thanks to a whole series of dams – including Grand Coulee – that produce massive amounts of clean and renewable and hydroelectricity that keeps the lights on and our economy running.

But, these legendary projects are under constant assault from age and environmental litigation. Despite the known and widely regarded successes associated with the Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers projects, the flow of our Columbia River system had been managed by a federal judge who knew little about science or engineering. Over the past decade, these projects have been managed by litigation, and judicial action and reaction because of the Endangered Species Act. As California is now painfully witnessing, we are at a point in the West where species are becoming more important than people.

Let me talk a bit about California. The House Natural Resources Committee has spent considerable time investigating and trying to resolve the water issues in California. Without a doubt, the lack of rainfall has led to a drought. Yet, the drought has been exacerbated by federal regulations that have released over 800,000 acre feet of storage into the Pacific Ocean. Undoubtedly, that water could and should be in storage now, but it isn’t because of an endangered three-inch Delta Smelt.

As it stands now, irrigators in the San Joaquin Valley are slated to receive zero percent of their water and, as a result, unemployment is going to skyrocket. It’s a travesty that was completely avoidable.

The House has acted twice on this matter and we are still waiting for the Senate to act. It’s fine if the Senate has an alternative approach, but it must act and we must then find a solution together to avoid another man-made drought.

Certainly one of the longer-term solutions to resolving the California situation and droughts throughout the West is more water storage. Dams and reservoirs were designed to capture water in normal times to provide water in dry times. That’s why the West has prospered, yet federal regulations and lack of vision have undercut our ability to build more multi-purpose storage on a comprehensive basis.

As many of you know, the Yakima basin is in real need of storage. Conservation is important in the basin and must be part of that solution, but storage is the key to meeting water supply needs.

Republicans on the Natural Resources Committee have introduced three bills to build more storage through innovative means and through what’s called “one-stop-shop” permitting reforms. We owe it to future generations to plan and to build these projects now before we get to a mindset in this country that big projects like these are unattainable and shouldn’t be pursued.

These projects can also provide hydropower. This is an audience I certainly don’t need to convince about the benefits of hydropower. Yet, because of politics, some of the most vocal climate change activists are incapable of plainly stating that low-cost hydropower is a clean energy source, a renewable energy source, and a non-emitting energy source.

While it’s astonishing that hydropower as a renewable energy source is even a matter of debate, it is even more astonishing that some demand the removal of the four Snake River dams in the name of climate change. This is pure politics and hypocrisy at its worst. If you are serious about global warming, you can’t seriously support Snake River dam removal when hydropower is a non-emitting energy source.

On the flip side of federal regulations, we have pushed for the reform of the federal hydropower relicensing process. A process where federal resource agencies extort dam owners to make costly improvements that have little or nothing to do with the environment.

For example, a public utility district wants to put a 6 megawatt facility at the Enloe Dam far above migratory fish habitat. This effort has been sidetracked by the Bureau of Land Management for almost a decade for something that has nothing to do with the environment or fish. There is truly no accountability. If we want clean and renewable power, these bureaucratic hurdles must stop.

We did clear some bureaucratic hurdles with the passage of the Tipton conduit hydropower bill. This public law is a significant accomplishment and is the first west-wide authorization of hydropower in decades – clearing up multi-agency confusion on over 29,000 miles of federal canals and allowing irrigators the first right-of-refusal in developing hydropower in canals, pipes and ditches.

Now, the Bureau of Reclamation must implement this law properly to ensure so that we have more hydropower investment while protecting irrigators and their water supplies. I thank NWRA for their leadership in supporting this bill.

I want to focus on two areas that I know are significant concerns during your visit to Washington, DC this year: The Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

First, as many of you heard yesterday from my staff, we have put considerable work on the Endangered Species Act, which has not been amended or reauthorized in 26 years. Serial litigants have abused the law. At the same time, only 2 percent of species have actually been recovered.

We can do better for species and people. Yet, many of the serial litigants are fighting hard to keep the status quo.

In response, Wyoming’s Congresswoman, Cynthia Lummis, and I started the Endangered Species Working Group. This Group was composed of Republicans throughout the U.S. to help build the national case for modest improvements to the ESA.

We in the West know firsthand about the ESA, but the mega-settlements entered into by the Obama Administration’s Fish and Wildlife Service, the Center for Biological Diversity and the WildEarth Guardians will continue to bring the ESA issue to many more Americans.

The Working Group proposed dozens of reforms. The first of those reforms, principally dealing with the need for data and litigation transparency, were introduced as legislation last week.

The Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on those bills next week. We fundamentally believe that these simple, straightforward and common sense reforms will improve the ESA for people and species. We look forward to working with you on these efforts.

Second, while our bills are aimed at improving the regulatory environment, the Obama Administration made matters worse when it announced a revised “Waters of the U.S.” proposal last week. As many of you know, this proposal is the non-legislative form of the old Jim Oberstar bill from four years ago which sought to take the word “navigable” out of the Clean Water Act, effectively regulating almost every body of water – including irrigation canals.

This is a massive federal overreach, guaranteeing more paperwork, more bureaucratic red tape and federal micromanagement of private landowners – not better water quality.

I urge you in your visits this week to talk to your representatives and their staff to give firsthand accounts of what this means to your water districts. There will be congressional action to stop this proposal but we need your help.

As always, we face daunting tasks even in the midst of successes. For this reason, you are vitally important to bringing it home about how federal actions impact your farmers, communities and even the nation. You are the ones on the ground who deal with federal regulations every day, you have a story tell and you should tell it.

I commend you for your hard work and dedication and look forward to working with you in these important endeavors.

With that, I say thank you for inviting me to join you and would like to open it up to a few questions.”