Hastings brings Western attitude to key committee

Kevin Wolf/Associated Press House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., right, talks with former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William Reilly before the start of a committee hearing on Jan. 26 in Washington, D.C.

New House natural resources chairman calls for developing oil, gas reserves

By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

The crisis in Egypt underscores America's need to fully develop all of its energy resources, including drilling for oil wherever it can be found, says the new chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

"Unfortunately, this administration by its actions and statements doesn't want to open up ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) or the outer continental shelf," Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., told Capital Press Feb. 2.

The Obama administration should lift its shallow-water drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico soon because it's the easiest source to tap and should open both coasts, wherever there are deposits of oil, Hastings said.

Reducing dependence on foreign oil is a matter of national security and protecting the economy, he said.

On Jan. 26, Hastings ran his first Natural Resources Committee meeting as chairman. The agenda item was a hearing on the BP oil spill commission's recommendations. In opening remarks, Hastings noted that we still don't know what precisely caused the explosion or why a blowout preventer failed to work. He said Congress needs to have all the facts before rushing to judgment.

In his Capital Press interview, Hastings said the administration alone can lift the drilling moratorium and has said it may by June. "I think it should be sooner," he said, noting he will pressure the administration toward that end with oversight hearings.

His broad priorities as chairman are job creation, thoughtful oversight of the administration and reducing government spending.

"This is largely in response to the election. This is what the electorate wanted us to do," he said. "It's important because we can't continue running trillion-dollar deficits. It's unsustainable and the American people understand that. Congress and the government have to respond."

Hastings served on the Natural Resources Committee during his first term in Congress in 1995. He left it for the powerful Rules Committee for 12 years. He remained interested in Natural Resources, though, because of the heavy agricultural and natural resources interests of his Central Washington district. They include the Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Reclamation irrigation projects, hydroelectric dams and endangered species recovery.

As chairman, Hastings controls the flow of legislation from the committee and is a key voice on oil and gas drilling, mining, wildlife, fisheries, water, land, national parks and American Indian affairs.

The committee meets about twice a month. Any of its five subcommittees meet every week.

Hastings said he will hold oversight hearings on why Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is canceling 77 natural gas exploration leases in Utah and why Salazar thinks he has the authority to lock up Bureau of Land Management lands as wild lands.

"We can deny them funding to carry it out. This is a huge hammer we have in the House, not funding initiatives like the wild lands and Obamacare," he said.

Congress has sole power to designate wilderness areas and Salazar's plan to designate wild lands is an "absolute grab of congressional authority," Hastings said.

Asked what agriculture and the timber industry can expect from him, Hastings responded, "My whole approach is to give them as much authority and leeway as possible to support their enterprises."

National parks and wilderness areas have restricted uses, but "the environmental left wants to extend without laws the wilderness restrictions on areas that should have multiple use, and I will work with respective industries for multiple use," he said.

While Hastings said environmentalists hold him in low regard, he said he has continually worked for cleanup of the Hanford site, "one of the most hazardous and contaminated radioactive sites in the world."

"I've been working my whole time in Congress to make sure we clean it up. Environmentalists should be very happy with my work on that," he said.

The situation with gray wolves points to the need to modify the Endangered Species Act, Hastings said.

The wolf was delisted because of ample wolves and management plans in Idaho and Montana but was relisted because Wyoming's plan didn't pass federal muster.

"All three states have gray wolves, and if one has a problem all have a problem. That doesn't pass the common-sense test," Hastings said. "To the extent we can look at mitigating that, we will do so. What precisely, I can't say now."

Another desire is to balance funding for the Yakima Basin Water Project and expansion of the Columbia River Basin Irrigation Project with the need to reduce federal spending.

"It's simply a matter of prioritizing efforts of the Interior Department," Hastings said. "We will prioritize in the budget. Those are not the only areas that need more storage. Water is an integral part in all the West. I know Colorado and California have issues and need more storage, so it's not just projects in my district but we will help get storage in other areas."

Hastings also said he supports subcommittee chairman Rob Bishop's desire to allow U.S. Border Patrol agents to enter national parks to chase drug smugglers and illegal aliens.

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