Is there a vast divide in federal environmental policy between Western and Eastern states? Will there be enough federal money for Western water projects? California Republican George Radanovich joins OnPoint to discuss the National Environment Policy Act task force, Endangered Species Act reform, this session's energy bill and the MTBE provision, and California water issues.
Colin Sullivan: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Colin Sullivan. With us today is George Radanovich, Republican from California, a key player on the House Resources Committee, and Cy Zaneski, editor of Greenwire and former reporter for The Miami Herald. Congressman, thanks for being here.
George Radanovich: Good to be here, Colin, thanks.
Colin Sullivan: I'd like to first start out with a question about the national environmental policy. Last week, there was a taskforce created on the Republican side of the House Resources Committee that will basically look at reforming NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act]. Also, there's efforts to reform the Endangered Species Act. Some of this has prompted environmentalists to say there's a two-tiered assault going on from the House Resources Committee on NEPA and ESA. What's your position? Why did NEPA and ESA need to be changed?
George Radanovich: Well, the reason why each one of those need to be changed is because a lot of the public land that's held by the United States government is in the western United States, far away from the large population centers in the United States, in particular the East Coast and many parts in the West like on the California coastline. And, unfortunately, that causes a problem. One is that those people that vote and send members to Congress to vote on environmental legislation are often persuaded by special interest groups, environmental groups, that may or may not be telling the real story about what's going on on those public lands. And I think the reason we need to look at reform in ESA and NEPA is to make sure that there's some balance in the legislation so that it works for public lands, not only for public access, but also for good, sound environmental policy. Because under this scenario of -- I, in some ways, ill informed urban voters voting on policy for public lands, makes it very, very difficult for those that have good, you know, a real care for the environment, but also want to be able to maintain access to public lands to find that balanced piece of policy to effectively manage public lands, and that's why the reform needs to be done.
Colin Sullivan: Well, can you give us some specific examples of where NEPA has gone wrong or where ESA has gone wrong?
George Radanovich: Well, one of the best examples I can really point out is in our national forests throughout the United States. Now, in many cases, we'll have, you know, a natural catastrophe like a fire started either by man or by lightning in the West, burns many acres, and the timber in those regions are only good for about a two-year period. Then they begin to decay rapidly and become worthless. NEPA prevents, because of the time allowed and the ability for interest groups to sue and delay, prevent people, good forest managers, from coming in and getting the wood out of there, and actually reseeding to get that timber stand up and the environment healthy again, because of the lengthy time of the NEPA process. So by the time that you go through this process, the timber is drastically reduced in its value and prevents, you know, the harvesting of it in a timely fashion. Now healthy forest legislation dealt somewhat with NEPA in that particular bill, but it was like a piece of -- and here -- and I think we don't want our strategy to be to deal with NEPA as it relates to forest, to deal with NEPA as it relates to water storage projects, and here and there and here and there. But take a look at the law after, what, 20 years now and make some reform in the legislation so that we get some balanced land management policies.
Cy Zaneski: When you talk about a unified approach to reform, you earlier mentioned this divide, East and West, urban-rural. How do you see the divide being bridged so that there can be some meaningful reform that you get buy-in from people in the East or from the cities, who have a very different view of the environment, as you say, than people in the West and from rural areas? How do you see that bridge being built so that there can be meaningful reform?
George Radanovich: Well, I think the legislation, both NEPA and the Endangered Species Act, needs to be reformed in a way that keeps some groups from abusing the system. Both NEPA and the Endangered Species Act were vague, fairly vague laws, and they've been subject to interpretation through the courts, lawsuits, or by various administrations. If we can tighten it up so that people with the agenda of stopping development, you know, in the West and to actually shutting down projects, like hydroelectric projects, by using lawsuits that actually stall the progress on that, on those licenses or whenever permits are requested, that would be the key. And, again, what we don't want is people to just have the ability to destroy the environment. That's not what the issue is. It is, rather, making sure that we have a balanced use of public access, public use of our natural resources, and conservation of the environment; and those policies need to be done in the form of permits in a timely manner. So if we can reform the legislation to stop the abuse from some environmental groups to just keep putting things off forever on some of these permits and such, then we've successfully reformed the bill.
Cy Zaneski: Do you think the federal government treats the environment differently in the East than it does in the West? Like some years ago, you had raised some issue about the Army Corps of Engineers and water treatment sludge in the Potomac.
George Radanovich: Yes.
Cy Zaneski: Do you see the federal government treating issues differently here on the East Coast than they do in the West?
George Radanovich: Quite definitely, and the use of the -- or the discussion of the Wilson Bridge and the water purification system here for Washington, D.C., was a clear example, because, in the haste to get the Wilson Bridge reconstructed as it was falling apart, they devoted quite a little space, maybe two paragraphs, in their environmental review to take care of a -- I forget the -- it listed endangered species; and, you know, their solution for making sure that this fish was not in the area where the bridge construction was to occur was to strip its habitat out, which were the clam beds below the bridge. And now if you try to do that in the West, you'd go to jail and be fined, and they'd throw away the key; and it was a clear distinction of how things are done here and how they're done out West.
Cy Zaneski: We're seeing on these issues very charged attitudes on both sides. I think folks who find problems with laws or find problems with how the agencies work and others who are environmental groups who are supporting them, we recently saw a study, a survey, come out from the two advocacy groups who surveyed a biologist from the Fish and Wildlife Service who dealt with endangered species. Forty-four percent of the biologists surveyed said that they had had pressure from supervisors to refrain from making decisions or writing opinions that would help endangered species, and 56 percent said that their decisions were politics trumped science.
George Radanovich: Right.
Cy Zaneski: One was quoted as saying -- one biologist was quoted as saying, "I've never seen so many findings and recommendations by the field be overturned by Washington or the field level or the supervisory level." How do you see -- is it possible to have meaningful reform when we have such a divide, again, over politics versus science on key issues or on key laws?
George Radanovich: Yeah, I really believe you can. If you -- on the areas of critical habitat, definition of species, things like that that are reform-minded, it can help. I think the biggest abuse and what causes that divide between the East and West is not that there are more endangered species out West than there are on the East Coast. That is just -- it's simply not true. And where the abuse in the law is, is when it's used to stop development or, you know, develop a federal no-growth policy, because a lot of the growth is happening out in the West Coast, and so I think if the reform -- the reform needs to be done in a way where the law can work equally in the East as it does in the West. And that way, the harshness of the current interpretation of the Endangered Species Act would never be accepted by urban populations on the East Coast. They simply would not stand for it, and they'd demand that their elected representatives go reform immediately if they were living under those laws. And I don't want the law to be that way, but I want it to be reformed in such that it does work as well in an urban area as it does in the rural parts of the West. And then I think you'll have a balanced piece of legislation.
Colin Sullivan: If we can -- there's a lot going on on Capitol Hill this week besides NEPA and ESA reform.
George Radanovich: Right.
Colin Sullivan: There's several energy bill markups. President Bush has said he wants Congress to send him an energy bill; but Congress, for the last two Congresses, hasn't been able to do so. Do you think it's a problem of -- and some people have said the White House hasn't been engaged enough on Capitol Hill to get energy through. Do you think it's a problem of -- I mean Republican control the White House, Republican control the House and the Senate. Still we can't get an energy bill. What's the problem, and are we gonna get an energy bill this year?
George Radanovich: Well, as you may know, last year the House did pass out an energy bill; and, of course, it got stuck in the Senate. Right now we're beginning -- well, we're beginning to finish our markup in the House of the energy bill. We'll get that done and, I think, passed through the House by the end of next week. So we're busy on our way getting it done. A few of the issues that were holding up the energy bill, I think are getting resolved in the Senate, but it is a Senate issue over the additive MTBE in gasoline, and if they can move on that, then I really do think that the change that we've experienced in the Senate from last year will be able to facilitate the passage of this bill, especially with fuels going up to, in some cases, $3.00 a gallon, probably, for gasoline this summer. I don't think the public's gonna be wanting or will be tolerating Congress holding up on issues and not hammering out the details.
Colin Sullivan: But isn't MTBE less about the House versus the Senate than it is about California versus Texas versus the Midwest? We've got California seeking a waiver from fuel oxygenate requirements. We've got Texas trying to protect MTBE manufacturers, and then you got the Midwest wanting to scrap MTBE altogether and get an ethanol mandate. I mean how do you bridge that divide if it's more about regional fractured politics than it is about --
George Radanovich: Well, and all those diverse views are at the table. I mean they are represented at the table. And, again, I think the public looks at that and says, "You gotta work it out." I mean it's -- and if there were no public support for things in this town, nothing would ever happen. But that's what forces people to sit down and say, "OK, you know, we gotta do something, so figure it out." And I think that that -- I think it will get it resolved. I do believe it will get itself resolved. It was very interesting, ANWR was in the, you know, the drilling in Alaska was in the budget bill of the Senate this year, which was an amazing thing to me; and it'll be interesting to see if it does make it in the Senate version and get signed into law. And, again, I think what's putting pressure on the Senate this time around -- what's different in the Senate this time around is the change in the makeup of the Senate. It's five more Republicans there. But, also, it's gonna be the public sitting back and saying, "You better get something done here."
Colin Sullivan: Now, do you think the White House needs to be more engaged?
George Radanovich: Well, I think -- yes, I do. I think that the president, you know, is working with us now to say, "I want this done. I want it cleared up." And they respond to the same kind of pressure the Senate and House do from the public.
Colin Sullivan: Do you feel like staff members on the Energy and Commerce Committee or the Resources Committee, both of which you sit on, are working well on this issue? Is there a difference between the -- how the Resources Committee conducts itself versus Energy and Commerce? Is there -- what's your feelings on the difference between working on the committees?
George Radanovich: On the different committees?
Colin Sullivan: Yeah.
George Radanovich: Regarding energy?
Colin Sullivan: Yeah.
George Radanovich: Well, I think both -- they're high priorities in both committees; and, on the energy side in the Resources Committee, we are dealing with certain types of hydro relicensing and, of course, that's going on in Commerce as well; but they're working together, both to make sure that the bill goes out.
Cy Zaneski: Moving from energy to an issue that's very big in your district and in your state -- water. Your state has a very big water project, the CALFED Bay Delta Project, which I know you've been involved in. Could you tell us a little bit about whether there's been adequate funding. If you think things are moving along well there. How do you see the project going at this point?
George Radanovich: Well, CALFED finally passed last year, and the process was started in 1995, and that -- it was a stakeholder process, and the stakeholders were urban, ag, and environmental water users. And the idea was to move, work out a consensus for the state's water supply and move each group forward at the same time, so everybody stays on the wagon the whole trip, you know? And didn't quite work out that way. But it was amazing. In California, where water, like everywhere else in the West, is so contentious, that we actually passed a large bill -- it was $400 million -- through the Congress on a voice vote on the consent calendar, which, to me, was a miracle. I mean these things -- there's always somebody who's not happy with the way things worked out, so I was really encouraged that it did pass. It does have four water storage projects in there, raising of Shasta Dam being one, and then three other offstream water storage projects. And it doesn't meet all the needs of the state, and, in particular in my area of the state, that we need to get another water storage project in there. But the difficulty, I think in this 10-year process, has been that when I mentioned all the stakeholders advancing at the same time, it didn't work out that way. Of the $300 million that were spent, $380 million, I think, on CALFED up to this point, about 80 percent of it went to environmental enhancements and improvements, which were good, and I support them. But what I don't like is that, unfortunately, we're in a position where the environmental groups have gotten too much, and even though we've got four water storage sites in the bill, there are gonna be lawsuits on those projects. You can, you know, bet your bottom dollar, which, unfortunately, is gonna delay the development of these water projects. And, you know, even if you didn't have lawsuits, getting 'em up and running is still gonna take quite a bit of time.
Cy Zaneski: Do you see, given the federal budget deficit and the competition for money, for federal money, do you see a large role in the future for the federal government in major water projects? We have a massive project going on in South Florida, the Everglades Project, which is very expensive and complicated, and CALFED; and we have others that are lining up trying to get into line. Do you see a continued major federal role in doing these big restorations and water supply projects?
George Radanovich: You know, I think that there's still a role for the federal government, especially in the Everglades, 'cause you're dealing with a National Park there, too, as well, but even in the West when you're dealing with public lands. Now there is a real interest, I think, on part of some of us in Washington to try to give back some of these projects that are older and have been paid for to some of the water users that helped financed the projects. And, you know, kinda divesting the federal management of some of these projects, and I think that those may be good to look at on an individual basis to see where our federal government can save money and they can be better managed by those local agencies. So --
Colin Sullivan: If I could change the subject back to energy real quick. Do you support drilling off the coast of California? Senator Lamar Alexander introduced a natural gas bill last week that would basically give states the right to waive offshore moratoria on drilling in an effort to get more natural gas supply in the pipeline. What do you think about that bill, and is it off-limits to California? No drilling off the coast?
George Radanovich: Is his bill off limits to California or --
Colin Sullivan: Well, it would give -- it would take oversight of federal moratoria from the federal government and give it partially to state, so that you could drill off the coast of Florida, off the coast of North Carolina, off the coast of Virginia, off the coast of California. So my question to you is do you support drilling off the coast of California? Do you think there's a way that that's possible in terms of the political reality?
George Radanovich: Well, I think you need to be able to have the -- to kinda reserve the right, in a manner of speaking, in case, you know, it, frankly, has to be done in the future; and, again, when you're looking at the price of fuels, the -- we're on a permanent, you know, in some ways, a balance of energy or shortage of energy due to the rising population and world population. But also the rising economies of China and India, which are the largest population centers in the world. That is what's putting pressure on our energy supply in a way that's never been done before. So we're gonna -- we need to begin to look at energy independence, and I think that some of these options need to be left on the table.
Cy Zaneski: What about constructing a liquefied natural gas import facility on the coastline of California?
George Radanovich: Yeah, I do support --
Cy Zaneski: You support that?
George Radanovich: Yeah, yeah.
Cy Zaneski: You also -- you're fairly critical of environmental groups and how they operate in Washington, D.C. Do you feel like environmental groups have lost some of their muscle the last few years? Especially last year's election with the president and Republicans getting seats in the House and the Senate?
George Radanovich: Well, I would say that, you know, environmental groups typically give to Democrats, and the Democrats are not in charge of the House or the Senate or the presidency. So, yeah, in some ways, I think that they've lost some clout. I don't want the environmental groups to be powerless. What I do, I want the double standard out of the environmental movement. And I don't like the attitude that some resources should be left to the few while we develop policy that keeps the rest of the people out. And I've experienced that in areas like being born and raised right next to Yosemite National Park, and some of the management plans that are advocated for that park lead me to believe that that's the case with some environmental groups, and I want that element out of this thing. If we had a sense where we're all working together, and we're honestly achieving a balance of right to access or multiple use enjoyment of public lands, balanced with proper conservation techniques, then I think environmentalists are, in my view, always welcome to the table. But to use environmental policy to stop -- to bury your head in the sand with a no-growth policy, or to use it in a way that keeps other people off the land, but maintains, you know, specialty access is, you know, that's, I think, where the environmental community goes wrong sometimes.
Colin Sullivan: OK. Let that be the last word. We're out of time. Congressman, thanks for being here. We appreciate it.
George Radanovich: My pleasure.
Colin Sullivan: Join us tomorrow for another edition of OnPoint. Until then, I'm Colin Sullivan for E&ETV.
[End of Audio]