High oil and gas prices continue to resonate on Capitol Hill as both the House and Senate work on legislative solutions. During today's OnPoint, House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) talks about his committee's agenda in the coming months, including a new push for offshore oil and gas exploration, renewable energy and opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Plus, Pombo discusses his effort to reauthorize federal fishing laws under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and defends his bill against criticism that it could delay the recovery of depleted fisheries.
Brian Stempeck: Hello and welcome OnPoint. I'm Brian Stempeck. Joining me today is Congressman Richard Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee. Congressman thanks a lot for being here today.
Richard Pombo: Thank you.
Brian Stempeck: Now you're the cosponsor of a bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens bill. One of the key issues that's been talked about is how to kind of elevate the science and get some of the regional fishery councils to listen to the advice that the scientists are giving. How does your bill address that issue?
Richard Pombo: Well, we do put much more of a focus on the science. We expand on the scientific committees and get that information directly into the councils. That is one of the important issues. A lot of times these things break down on political issues and what's right and what's wrong. If the councils themselves will depend on the science we will end up, in the long run, with better decisions being made and healthier fisheries as a result of that.
Brian Stempeck: Now one of the criticisms of the bill from environmental groups, from opponents of this legislation, they've said that you have these provisions to kind of boost the use of the science. If the scientists are saying that we need to set a catch limit at a certain level, you know the council can follow that recommendation. But who's to say that a council is going to do that? I mean if you have the council up in New England and they decide to ignore the advice of some of the scientists, is there any enforcement? I mean what happens in terms of making sure that the council actually does follow that advice?
Richard Pombo: Well, there are enforcement provisions, but the issue really is that some want to set a hard number, to say you can only catch so many fish a year out of a certain fishery. What we found is that different councils operate differently. In some areas what they do is they limit the number of days that someone can go out or they have different options as to how they reach that number. And if you do it that way, if you allow them that flexibility as to how they're going to reach their number, we still end up with a healthy fishery. We just give the council the flexibility to make different decisions as to how they're going to get there.
Brian Stempeck: What's wrong though with having that kind of annual catch limit? I mean Senator Stevens supports that idea. He's sponsoring a bill over in the Senate. You also have the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy that did a multi-year study involving hundreds of scientists. They recommended the idea of having the annual catch limits as well. Why not go with that idea as well?
Richard Pombo: Well, I think we ultimately end up in the exact same place. The only question is how do you get there? And in some of the councils, they want to limit it based on the number of days someone is allowed to go out. In other areas, other councils, they wanted to have a hard number and set it at that. And what really drives that is how the fishermen in that area, how they fish and how they go out, the number of fishermen that are there, how they're regulated in that particular area. We want to give each council the flexibility as to how they're going to reach their number, but we do require that they rebuild their stocks, that they stop over fishing. All of those are requirements that are in the bill. We just have greater flexibility as to how they get there.
Brian Stempeck: Is there a possibility though that that flexibility can be abused? I mean one of the other things that's been talked about is having a 10 year limit on when over fishing has to stop, that's in current law. Some versions of the bill, Congressman Gilchrist's bill, that say we want over fishing to stop in two years. Your bill, I believe, maintains the 10 year time frame that allows the Commerce Department to grant exemptions. Isn't there a fear that this can be abused?
Richard Pombo: But I believe that that's important, that that flexibility be in there. You know in some areas they may be able to stop over fishing in a year or two years. In other areas it may take 10 years, but we have to have flexibility on each individual stock in order for the commerce secretary to look at that and say, well, in this area it's going to take us 11 years to maintain, to rebuild this and economically not hurt that area. But in another area it may be seven years. I don't think we ought to have a set arbitrary number, but at the same time we have to have a healthy fishery. But we also have to have a healthy economy. And I don't think that it's a necessarily mutually exclusive decision.
Brian Stempeck: But shouldn't there be a cap on the upper limit? I mean 10 years seems like an awful long time to be rebuilding a fishery or stopping over fishing in these areas.
Richard Pombo: In some areas that may make perfect sense. And in a lot of cases, the testimony that we've received before the committee, it does make sense. But there are some areas where it doesn't. And if you did go with that hard number, which was an arbitrary number, but if you go with that hard number you may put an entire fishery out of business. You may bankrupt all of the fishermen in that one particular area. And if you had extended it for two years you may have avoided all of that.
Brian Stempeck: Your committee had a hearing recently looking at your bill, also looking at a bill from Congressman Rahall of West Virginia. But you didn't take up a bill from Congressman Gilchrist and I wanted to ask about that. He's the chairman of the Fisheries Subcommittee. How has he been involved so far? I mean he has a separate bill, but it doesn't seem like that's getting much traction in your committee.
Richard Pombo: No, Wayne does have a separate bill, but a lot of the issues that Wayne brought to the table are what was ultimately included in the committee bill, what came out of the committee. Barney Frank and I are the two lead sponsors of that particular bill, but we took ideas from everyone. And much, if not almost everything that was included in Congressman Gilchrist's original bill ultimately was included in that. There are a couple of issues that he has a different idea as to how to get there. And as this thing was forward, as we go through the committee markup process, the committee may ultimately end up amending the bill to include those ideas. But it was his option or whatever to introduce his own bill and he decided to do that.
Brian Stempeck: What do you see as the timetable for your bill this year in terms of trying to get it done?
Richard Pombo: We need to get it done as quickly as possible. The Magnuson-Stevenson Act needs to be reauthorized and we need to get it done as it is possible. Fortunately the Senate has already acted. Committees moved their bill on the Senate side, so I think that because of that it's important for us to move forward.
Brian Stempeck: I want to switch gears a little bit. The House recently just passed its bill on price gouging. At the same time they turned down a bill on basically expanding refinery capacity. I wanted to ask you, what is your plan? With energy right now playing so highly in the minds of voters and the general public, the news media is all over it right now, what is your committee planning on doing over the next few months in terms of introducing new legislation or trying to get something to the floor?
Richard Pombo: Well, the Resources Committee is really the supply committee because we have jurisdiction over lands. And because of that a lot of our focus has been on how do we increase the amount of domestically produced energy? You know we've looked at issues ranging from renewables, like wind and solar and geothermal and hydro to what is a more immediate solution in terms of fossil fuels, oil and gas? I think any bill that ultimately is produced has to be a balanced bill in that approach. It has to look at all of our options and what's out there. None of this is going to happen fast. We've tried to pass energy bills. We've worked on a number of different issues. There's really nothing new that's being put on the table right now. It's just a matter of does Congress have the will, now that we've seen these record high prices, to actually do something about domestic supply?
Brian Stempeck: What do you see as kind of your top priority? I mean you mentioned a lot of things there; renewables, oil and gas, a bunch of issues. If you had to pick one or two of them to push over the course of the next month, while Congress does have this momentum, while gas prices are high, what would you choose?
Richard Pombo: Well, I think if I had to pick two issues I'd look at, one, short-term how do we bring more oil and gas into the market as quickly as we possibly can? And two, long-term, which is more of the new technology on wind and solar and some of the renewables. Because as we bring more energy into the market on fossil fuels that's important in the short-term. But in the long term, in terms of finding a long-term solution, we're going to have to look at new technologies.
Brian Stempeck: Going back to the first thing you said in terms of bringing more oil and gas into the supply right now, would that include something like the opt out plan you included for offshore gas leasing?
Richard Pombo: Yeah, absolutely. I think we do have to look at it. I think that we have six different bills that have been introduced now dealing with offshore oil and gas development. We do have to look at that. I think natural gas is probably the quickest thing we can bring into the market in terms of the Gulf of Mexico. But there are other plans that are out there, other issues that are out there that we have to look at. And I think that we're going to include that as part of a longer-term energy plan. We're going to get back into ANWR. I don't think there's any question that that's going to happen in the next several weeks. Whether or not I believe the House will pass an ANWR bill, I'm not sure what happens in the Senate on that.
Brian Stempeck: Politically it seems like voters are pretty angry about these issues in terms of how much they're paying at the pump. When you're talking about offshore gas leasing or ANWR or new forms of supply, isn't there kind of a danger there in terms of you're also giving new business to the oil and gas companies? It seems like most politicians right now they're on the attack. They're attacking over price gouging. They're attacking over price manipulation. They're not really looking to give new business ...
Richard Pombo: I love this because the oil and gas companies aren't the ones that are pushing to open up these areas.
Brian Stempeck: Come on!
Richard Pombo: They're not!
Brian Stempeck: The oil companies don't want to see ANWR opened? Of course they do.
Richard Pombo: They're not. They're not pushing to open it up. The guys that are pushing to open it up are the consumers of that energy. It's the big manufacturers. It's the chemical companies. It's the fertilizer manufacturers. They're the ones that are pushing hard to open up new areas. You don't see the oil and gas companies in testifying to open those areas up.
Brian Stempeck: Well that's politically risky for them to do, of course not. I mean but there are lobbyists to do that.
Richard Pombo: But you just assume that they do.
Brian Stempeck: Exxon Mobil does push for ANWR to be opened. I mean that's part of their platform. A lot of these companies are ...
Richard Pombo: But they are not the ones that are pushing to open these areas up. If you have a limited supply they have the ability to have a higher price. And they're not that interested in opening up these areas. It's one of the frustrating things for me, is that they're not out pushing to open up these areas because they're ultimately the ones who bid on these leases and have the potential to profit by them. And yet they're not the ones that are out pushing to open it up. The guys that are coming in and saying, "We need more oil," or, "We need more gas on the market," are the ultimate consumers of that. You know when you talk about people being mad about gasoline prices, they are and they should be because we have not done enough to increase the amount of supply into this country.
Brian Stempeck: What do you tell your constituents when they ask you about this issue in terms of, you know, "I'm paying $4 or $3 for gasoline at the pump right now, what's going to be done to change that?" I mean is there anything you think that can happen in the near term, over the course of the next six months or the next year?
Richard Pombo: There's very little in the short-term that can be done because really it is two problems; a supply problem on crude oil and a lack of oil worldwide and the other is refinery capacity. Unless we have greater refinery capacity in this country we will increasingly be at the mercy of foreign governments and foreign companies.
Brian Stempeck: All right congressman, we're out of time. Thanks so much for being here today.
Richard Pombo: Thank you.
Brian Stempeck: I'm Brian Stempeck. This is OnPoint. Thanks for watching.
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