House Panel Criticizes Trump for Climate Change Policies That Harm Public Lands

May 16, 2019 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON – Democratic members of Congress said Wednesday that environmental policies of the Trump administration are threatening the nation’s outdoor recreation industry.

During two House Natural Resources Committee hearings, a Trump administration official defended the Interior Department’s record, but environmentalists warned of severe consequences.

Some of the controversy focused on recent government encouragement of oil and gas development on public lands.

Emissions from oil and gas drilling on public lands produces nearly a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent federal government report.

However, President Donald Trump said shortly after taking office in 2016 that he would increase the number of leases to oil, gas and mining companies on public lands to help the nation’s economy. He also wants to make the United States energy independent.

In an example this week, the Environmental Protection Agency published a rule Tuesday saying it would allow oil and gas project construction under streamlined regulations on Ute Indian Tribe land in Utah.

“Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s aggressive push for energy dominance continues to put our public lands, our health and our recreational opportunities at risk,” said Representative Debra Haaland, D-N.M., chairwoman of the subcommittee on national parks, forests, and public lands.

The U.S. House hearings took place one day after Representative Diana DeGette, D-Colo.,  introduced a bill in Congress to limit methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

Oil and gas companies would be required to capture 85 percent of all gas produced on public lands within 3 years of enactment, and 99 percent of all gas produced on such lands within 5 years of enactment. It also would ban venting of any natural gas on public lands, and prohibit methane flaring at any new wells established 2 years after the bill is passed.

The bill would reinstate climate change regulations enacted during the Obama administration but largely overturned during the Trump administration.

One of the witnesses Wednesday was Jesse Deubel, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.

“Climate change is whittling away at our ability to hunt, fish, camp, picnic, backpack, forage, enjoy boating or otherwise partake in the bountiful health benefits afforded to us by our public lands,” he said in his testimony.

He described hunting and camping adventures of his youth that have nearly disappeared because of climate damage, which has included deforestation and the near extinction of some wild animals.

Callan Chythlook Sifsof, a former U.S. Olympic snowboard team member and environmental activist, said ski resorts and other winter recreation areas are seeing their operating costs rise, meaning their customers must pay higher prices.

Many resorts must use snow machines or truck in snow to keep their slopes covered, she said.

In her home state of Alaska, the way of life for some residents is threatened, she said.

“Where I grew up, it is clear that a rising sea level is eroding our community and that increased water temperatures are harming aquatic ecosystems and thus one of our major food sources, the sockeye salmon population,” Chythlook Sifsof said. “But, the consequences of climate change are not simply environmental. A changing climate impacts the health, well-being and economic prosperity of all populations, and for rural arctic regions of Alaska, like my own home, these changes are seen more acutely.”

During a separate hearing Wednesday, Democrats asked Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to consider climate change as a factor in future policy decisions.

Bernhardt seemed largely unconvinced by their arguments.

“What’s the number for how concerned you are about us hitting 415 parts per million of carbon dioxide,” Representative Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., asked.

He was referring to a recent meteorological study that found atmospheric carbon dioxide has now reached its highest level in human history.

“I haven’t lost any sleep over it,” Bernhardt answered.

Some congressmen accused Bernhardt of trying to sidestep their requests for information about his former lobbying efforts for energy companies.

At one point, Representative Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., pointed to a slide that showed computer code printed on documents the Interior Department sent them.

“I call this the gibberish slide,” Lowenthal said. “I have no idea what this says, but you sent it on.”

Representative Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, added, “While we have reams of paper, we don’t have quality content.”

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