House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and committee member Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) debate the controversial efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the reform the Endangered Species Act with E&E Daily reporters Mary O'Driscoll and Ben Geman.
Mary O'Driscoll: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Mary O'Driscoll. The House Resources Committee has a very busy schedule ahead of it this year dealing with the energy bill and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Endangered Species Act. To discuss those issues with us today is the chairman of the Resources Committee, Richard Pombo, Republican, of California, and one of the committee members, Jay Inslee, Democrat, of Washington. Also joining us today is Ben Geman, my colleague from Environment & Energy Daily and Greenwire. Congressmen, thank you so much for joining us today. Mr. Pombo, the energy -- you're going to have an energy bill markup in your committee next week.
Rep. Richard Pombo: Yes.
Mary O'Driscoll: You're going to be dealing with adding language opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the energy bill. Historically, the way that that debate has gone is that it usually passes the House pretty easily, but then gets stuck in the Senate. Do you have any indication that's going to be different this year?
Rep. Richard Pombo: Well, I think the numbers have changed in the Senate. That I don't think the debate has changed much over the last 25 years. But I do know that the numbers have changed somewhat in the Senate, and I'm optimistic that they'll have the votes to pass it in the Senate.
Ben Geman: It's interesting you mentioned that, actually. The trajectory of this upcoming term in the Senate seems to be somewhat different than in the House. Obviously, you're gonna be marking up legislation that includes ANWR as sort of, as part of energy legislation. Several senators have talked about adding ANWR provisions to the budget legislation, as opposed to the energy bill. How do you reconcile those two trajectories in the two chambers?
Rep. Richard Pombo: Well, the Senate has talked, last time they talked about including it as part of the budget process. This year, they're doing, you know, they're attempting to do the same thing. I'm assuming at this point that they'll be successful in doing that. But I have to tell you that I don't believe that any energy bill should go forward that is not a balanced energy bill. That doesn't have, you know, production. That doesn't have short-term fossil fuels in it, as well as long-term alternative energy. I think that whatever we produce in terms of national energy policy has to reflect a balanced way of approaching that, and that's one of the reasons why we have put a focus on doing some of the production side in the House.
Ben Geman: Do you think some of the larger oil companies are as interested in including ANWR provisions in this bill and opening up ANWR as some of the members of Congress. There's recently been news that some of the large producers up on the North Slope have actually pulled out of the main coalition lobbying in favor of opening up ANWR.
Rep. Richard Pombo: Oh, whether they're interested or not, what we are trying to produce is a national energy policy, and that is the focus that we've put on. We also have a large amount of money in the energy bill that deals with alternatives, with wind and solar and geothermal. There hasn't been a huge amount of interest from the private sector in going forward on that either. And yet we are trying to put together a balanced bill that puts incentives in place, that tries to take us from being so dependent on fossil fuels to alternatives, and all of that is part of this process that we're going through.
Mary O'Driscoll: Mr. Inslee, I just wanted to know, from the Democrat's perspective, how do you plan to handle this debate, the ANWR debate? It seems like it's pretty much a slam dunk that it's gonna be able to get through the House. Is that your view?
Rep. Jay Inslee: Oh, very well. We'll handle it very well. How's that?
Rep. Jay Inslee: No, I mean there will be a lot of resonance of the debate that we had over this subject for a number of years. But I do think there's actually been a couple things in the last year that has changed a little bit that we might talk about in this debate. Two things particularly. When we're talking about opening the Arctic, and I look at that as really kind of putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa, this incredible area, and I've been there. It really is one of the most unique -- the most unique areas I've ever been. We're really talking about increasing reliance on oil and continuing that dependence. And I think there are two things that have happened in the last year that could change this debate a bit. Number one, the science on the certainty of global warming as being a phenomenon that we really have to grapple with in some fashion, hopefully, in a bipartisan basis some day. Has really become much more certain. We've seen in the last week, at least one very significant report come out to indicate that global warming, number one, is here, and number two, has a probability of being more severe than we anticipated. We're starting to see more bipartisan recognition of that. Olympia Snowe, Senator Snowe, is actually the chair of that, of one of these committees that came out with the report, which was an international, both sides of the Atlantic, report to indicate that global warming is a problem that we need to deal with. So the science really has moved to indicate that we have to find more alternative high-tech energy sources, rather than just oil, to deal with this. That's one change. The second is that we've seen some improvements in the technology in the last year. We've seen really pretty spectacular advances being made in some of the technologies. We're seeing hybrid vehicles coming in, driving all over. My neighbor just got a Prius. We're driving a Prius. And we're seeing this new high-tech future really coming online. I just had a lady from Pacific Power, from Bellevue, Washington, just left my office, who now is having the third large over a hundred megawatt wind farm come online in the Northwest. So I think there's a couple of things that have changed that is in the direction I would advocate, which is to retain this wilderness and look for a high-tech solution to this problem.
Mary O'Driscoll: Well, on the technology issue, is that something that the proponents of drilling in ANWR talk about, that the technology has really kind of come of age to where the footprint, as they call it, is much smaller than it would have been 20 years ago when this was first discussed. So that trying to minimize the effect on the environment if drilling does actually take place. Isn't that true?
Rep. Richard Pombo: Well, yeah, it is true, and I would say I agree with most what Congressman Inslee said. I mean the only place where I think we differ is I look at, you know, the long-term alternatives as something we have to do, and it's something that's happening. But, at the same time, we have to take care of our short-, medium-term demand, which is on fossil fuels. We've seen technology develop in Prudhoe Bay, just 70 miles west of ANWR. We've seen where they went from putting in gravel roads and having a large footprint when they first started to the point of doing ice roads and minimizing any impact they have on the environment. That new technology that they have developed over the years actually makes it less of an impact on the environment, less of a negative impact on the environment than even what they talked about 20 or 25 years ago. I think that, you know, I would agree with a lot of what Jay says in terms the new technologies developing, and I support that. But, at the same time, we can't put our head in the sand and pretend that we are not heavily dependent on fossil fuels right now. And we have to be able to meet that need and lessen our dependence on foreign energy coming into this country. I mean right now we're at about two-thirds of our energy is being imported from foreign countries, and we have resources that we can develop in this country, and I think we need to do that.
Mary O'Driscoll: But isn't the argument that ANWR really won't do a whole lot immediately or really at all to lessen our dependence on foreign oil? I mean oil is a fungible commodity, and, you know, you pull some out in one part of the market and it goes in another part of the market. It's global, and so ANWR really won't really have much impact on that.
Rep. Richard Pombo: Well, it's in excess of 10 billion barrels of known reserves right now, and, you know, if you look at our experience with Prudhoe Bay where, you know, at that time, they said it wasn't worth going in there, and we've seen over the last 25 or 30 years, they've continually brought oil out of there. We can see the same kind of thing with ANWR. It does make a difference, but you can't forget that our dependence on foreign oil has driven a lot of our foreign policy and decisions that we've made in a lot of different areas. And lessening our dependence on foreign oil, I believe, is extremely important.
Ben Geman: Do you see the, some of the emerging science, as Congressman Inslee suggests, on climate change, influencing the debate over the next two, three, four months when this sort of shakes out on the Hill?
Rep. Richard Pombo: I don't think it makes a big difference in the debate as we go through this. I think as that science develops, as, you know, we begin to find out really what the models look like and where we're gonna go in the future, it may influence other policies and things that we do in terms of developing some of these alternatives. I think that begins to put a lot more focus on that. But, as far as our short-term demand or medium-term demand on fossil fuels, the technology right now doesn't exist to completely replace oil. We are going to use oil, and we have resources, you know. The largest known proven reserves of oil in this country are in Alaska right now, and that's what we should be developing.
Rep. Jay Inslee: Let me just comment.
Mary O'Driscoll: Certainly.
Rep. Jay Inslee: This issue of replacing Middle Eastern oil. We actually do have the technologies to replace Iraqi and Saudi Arabian oil today. And those are more fuel-efficient cars that are on the road today. If we simply improve the efficiency of our cars by three miles a gallon in our car fleet, we would save probably twice as much oil as even in the most optimistic scenarios we'll ever get out of the Arctic. So, in fact, we have technology today that solves this problem without intruding into this pristine area, and the fact of the matter is, you know, if you look at what happened is, is that we dropped the ball technologically speaking. If we had simply continued the rate of increase of our fuel efficiency of our automobiles during the Carter administration, if we had simply continued that rate of increase, we would actually be free of Persian Gulf oil today. So we have a technology we can use, that we can replace the Arctic oil by having more fuel efficient cars, safe, comfortable, workable, fast. My little spunky Prius gets going. We have that. We simply have not used it, 'cause we dropped the ball on CAFE.
Mary O'Driscoll: OK, well, I wanted to change the subject just a little bit. Wanted to get on the Endangered Species Act. A federal judge in Portland just recently overturned a Fish and Wildlife Service reclassification of the gray wolf. They went from endangered to threatened. Do you think that was a political decision? Does politics play in these, and should politics have a role in these decisions?
Rep. Richard Pombo: Politics always plays a role in these decisions. In that particular case, I believe the judge was wrong and will be overturned on appeal. My initial reading of that opinion is it makes it impossible for Fish and Wildlife to ever downlist or delist a species, and I don't believe that that was ever the original intent of the act, and that's something, I think, we're gonna be debating here for a long time, is what, you know, what the original intent was, and how did we get there. Unfortunately, when it comes to this, when it comes to endangered species, we spend way too much time on politics. You know, if we allow the science to make decisions, and if all of us had greater confidence in the science that was being used and the decisions that were based on that science, I don't think we'd be in the mess that we're in with the Endangered Species Act right now.
Ben Geman: Right, you've actually, in past sessions of Congress, mentioned the need for, to address some of the critical habitat issues in the ESA, as well as some of the sound science and best available science issues. What can we expect to see coming out of your committee in this upcoming session of Congress on ESA reform?
Rep. Richard Pombo: Well, the two major issues that we're looking at right now, we're dealing with improving the level of science that exists, that decisions are based on in the act. As well as try and get our arms around critical habitat and what that means and what timeframe critical habitat gets designated in. Those are really the two biggest controversial issues that we run into. But, quite frankly, they're the two issues that there is the most consensus that there's a need for improvement on. And so that is where we begin with. That's what we concentrate on. Obviously, there, you know, every time we talk about endangered species, there are another hundred issues that people throw on the table.
Ben Geman: Right.
Rep. Richard Pombo: I think that those two issues are issues that we can reach consensus on and that the majority of members of the committee and of the House can reach consensus on and move forward with.
Mary O'Driscoll: Do you think that there's a possibility for consensus on that, Mr. Inslee?
Rep. Jay Inslee: Oh, I'm an optimist by nature, so I'll always hope that that's the case. I don't know the answer to that. You know, there should be, and I'll tell you why. There are certain, there are two fundamental facts that ought to lead to some consensus. One is is that Americans believe that it violates our values as a community to put these species that the Creator gave us and make 'em extinct, and I think there's very broad consensus in America, red state/blue states, that it is against our value-system as Americans to take away the opportunity for our kids to have various species from the highest to the lowest available. So it really is an ingrained part of our value system, and I think that any poll would indicate that, and certainly my neighbors believe that way. Second, the science is just so compelling that we are in a period of extinction, despite the fact that we're taking some steps, we are in a period of extinction, possibly the largest period of extinction in the world's history. The rate of extinction that we are killing plants and animals that our grandkids will never have a chance to see, is perhaps greater than any time in global history. It's 10 times, at least, higher than sort of the background rate of extinction. Now extinction does occur, you know, 'cause dinosaurs aren't around. But the rate of extinction is unparalleled, certainly during humans' time on earth, and so, if you put those two things together: we value species, and we don't want to make 'em extinct, and we're in the largest period of extinction during mankind's time on earth, it would lead you to the conclusion, I think, that we ought to improve our mechanisms for keeping these species alive, rather than perhaps decreasing them. So that's the direction I think we ought to be going, and that's, if we're gonna reform this act, we ought to move in that direction. Now, some of the things that we voted on in the past, I don't think move in that direction. I think that some of the efforts actually, you know, right now when we're in this period of extinction, we actually have a moratorium on listing, 'cause we're not funding the listing process. So, even though we have the statute on the books, we're not actually listing species where the best science indicates that they ought to be listed. So we have a long ways to go to bring our efforts up to the value-system that Americans have. You know, I think it's great we find consensus in that direction.
Mary O'Driscoll: You look a little skeptical about that.
Rep. Richard Pombo: There's no moratorium on listings, and in terms of, you know, being in the middle of the greatest extinction period in history, I believe you said, I don't believe that that's true, and I don't believe the science supports that. But I'll agree with Jay that this is a moral value that Americans have, and it's something we don't want species to become extinct on our watch. And that's something that we can all agree on. I think the debate becomes what is the best way of doing that. I mean, quite frankly, the current Endangered Species Act has been a failure in terms of recovering species, and we can do a better job at recovering species, and, at the same time, lessen the conflicts that we have with private property owners across the country. I believe we can do that. I don't believe that we have to make a choice between the two. I believe we can do both.
Mary O'Driscoll: Well, I'd like to know, isn't, at it's core, the debate about the Endangered Species Act just a debate about getting, you know, getting access to resources, you know, whether it's timber or minerals or oil and gas on public land?
Rep. Richard Pombo: No, that's not it at all. I mean people think in terms of, you know, the spotted owl as being the, you know, the famous case that everybody paid attention to, but that's not what the vast majority of the complaints are about. The vast majority of the conflicts that we have deal with private property and the use of that private property. I believe that if we go in and change the incentives that exist in the current act and make it a positive to have habitat and endangered species on your property, that landowners will react differently than they do today where it's seen as a negative if you've got endangered species. So I think that we can do this, and we can change it, and there -- you know, we've been debating this since we got to Congress and long before that, and I do think that we're much closer today to actually having a consensus opinion that we can move forward on.
Ben Geman: Does some of that come down to questions, excuse me, of funding? I mean you mentioned the need for much stronger science when those decisions are made. At the same time, we're in an extremely tight budget climate. Is the reform legislation that you intend to put forward, or your committee intends to put forward at the session, gonna involve a significant increase in funding for the science behind the listing decisions?
Rep. Richard Pombo: Well, I think it has to. I think we have to increase the amount of money that we are making available for research and for doing the science. I have no question in my mind that we're going to have to do that. We're also going to have to be a lot more efficient about the way Fish and Wildlife spends money. They can't blow their entire budget defending themselves on lawsuits. We need to be a lot better about how we do this. But there's also a need for increased funding in terms of protecting habitat on having some kind of a tax credit for people who protect habitat, for having some kind of a grant system put in place that gives people the resources they need to create and protect habitat on their property. That's gonna cost money, but those funds right now are being provided by the private sector, and I think that we need to do more on the federal side in order to create those incentives so that people will protect habitat.
Mary O'Driscoll: Congressman Inslee, did you want to pipe in?
Rep. Jay Inslee: No, except to say that that would be a great thing to achieve, but the problem is, you know, we've got a $408 billion deficit because of the fiscal policies and some other issues that -- and while that has happened, I can't be terribly optimistic about that actually occurring on a global scale while we've got these fiscal policies that have handcuffed our ability to do it. And our lack of funding has resulted in inability to effectively enforce the Endangered Species Act, because there have been restrictions on actual decisions by these agencies that do cost money to get this science done. So there's a direct tie to the fiscal policies of this country, and extinction in this country, and we shouldn't ignore it. Now, our committee doesn't have total jurisdiction over that. I'm sure Mr. Pombo and I would fix the problem if we were running the show.
Rep. Jay Inslee: But that's an important issue.
Mary O'Driscoll: Well, we're going to have to end it on that point. I'd like to thank our guests, Chairman Pombo and Congressman Inslee, and my colleague Ben Geman. I'm Mary O'Driscoll. Join us again next time for another edition of OnPoint.
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