Washington state is home to two key players when it comes to national environmental policy: Sally Jewell, the Interior Secretary and a Seattle resident, and Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and a Republican from Pasco.
The two hail from opposite sides of Washington’s “Cascade Curtain” dividing line that politically and culturally separates the state.
And they faced off for the first time Tuesday on Capitol Hill, during Jewell’s first appearance in a committee hearing.
Hastings said the U.S. Department of Interior is making one-sided decisions, with little oversight on issues like energy policy, endangered species, and fracking. He said the department isn’t cooperating with oversight efforts.
“We are really running out of patience with the department’s delays,” Hastings said.
Hastings threatened to subpoena information, saying the committee issued 10 unanswered document requests over the past year. In response, Jewell said thousands of pages had been turned over.
“Before you feel a need to submit a document request, I’m very happy to have a one-on-one conversation with you to understand,” Jewell said. “I appreciate the role of oversight in this committee, and I’m committed to upholding that.”
During the hearing, Jewell also answered questions from committee members, most asking about natural resource issues related to their states.
Several Republican members questioned Jewell about the listing of endangered species -– particularly the sage grouse and eastern Washington bladderpod.
Reps. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said they would like to keep the Gunnison sage grouse off the endangered species list. The listing is currently on hold for six months.
“We’ve got a lot of programs that are going on (locally) and being very effective in terms of recovery of the sage grouse,” Tipton said.
Jewell said she has talked with Western governors about the sage grouse recovery efforts.
Many of the committee members from Western states also asked about firefighting efforts and prevention strategies. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., asked, “In light of the catastrophic fire season, do you support the president’s desire to reduce funding by $115 million for hazardous fuels reduction?”
Jewell, who wore a purple ribbon in support of firefighters, responded, “Fire is a huge issue. I’m bringing awareness to the administration. I’m working alongside (U.S. Department of Agriculture) Secretary (Tom) Vilsack to prioritize how we do our work and spread the dollars as far as we can. … As I influence the first budget I have an opportunity to be involved with in 2015, I’ll certainly be talking about these issues.”
Across-the-board federal budget cuts, known as sequestration, were another recurring topic. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., asked about the cuts’ effect on national parks and the Department of Interior.
“If this persists, or if it gets worse,” Jewell said of the budgetary cuts, “you take the things that you all care about, whether it’s permitting on oil and gas wells or it is taking care of national parks, and all of them will be impacted.”
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., asked for written clarification as to how the department would consult with Native American tribes. Grijalva also asked how climate change will affect public lands.
“We have a major role to play. We must adapt our landscapes, and that means understanding what’s going on, building natural, resilient infrastructure, for example for hurricanes. Think about natural ecosystems: mangrove swamps, dunes. Those kinds of things bring green spaces into communities, also help adapt them,” Jewell said.
In opening remarks Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., mentioned ocean acidification.
Jewell said that was “a big factor in the West.”
Hastings and Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., pushed Jewell on what they called the administration’s “War on Coal.”
In one of the more confrontational moments of the hearing, Mullin asked Jewell about her stance on coal regulations.
“The president and I believe in an all-of-the-above energy strategy. Coal is part of that. Oil and gas is part of that. Renewables are part of that,” Jewell said.
Mullin broke in, “When we say an ‘all of the above energy strategy,’ we’re attacking coal. So I don’t buy that. It’s all of the above as long as it’s green.”
Mullin then moved on to question Jewell about fracking.
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