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Conference Report on H.R. 2055, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SIMPSON. First, let me thank Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Dicks.

As I've told many Members, if this is your first term or your second term or your third term here in this body, this is the first time you've actually seen an appropriation bill come to the floor under an open rule, and I know that is something we both want. The majority party wants that, and I know the minority party wants that, also. And while Mr. Hoyer was correct, we didn't get them all done, we are moving in the right direction. And we will get there where every bill comes under an open rule so that Members have input into that legislation, and that's what we're working toward. And I want to thank you for that.

But first let me also thank my partner in this effort, Mr. Moran from Virginia. He's been a great asset in working out this bill. We don't always agree on every issue. I'm from Idaho, he's from Virginia, and so we sometimes have differences of opinion. But we're able to sit down and work together to solve those differences and work out a bill that I think is in the best interests of the American people.

The Interior bill conference agreement is $29.175 billion, which is $384 million below the FY enacted level. The conference agreement funds the EPA at $8.45 billion, which is $233 million below the FY11 enacted level and $524 million below the President's request. The bill also includes in title IV a general provision that amends the Clean Air Act to transfer air quality permitting authority as of the date of this enactment from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of the Interior. This will provide regulatory parity for the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea planning areas with the western and central Gulf of Mexico planning areas. It fully funds the newly created Bureau of Ocean Energy Management with $60 million to help expedite the review of offshore exploration plans. It also fully funds the newly created Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement at $76 million, including $15 million for oil spill research.

It provides authority for the collection of $62 million in inspection fees, but it dedicates funding for approving permits, expediting exploration plans, and hiring much-needed inspectors and engineers while also accelerating the approval of drilling plans. It fully funds wildfire suppression at the 10-year average. It cuts the NEA and NEH funding by $17.4 million combined in this bill from the '011 appropriation.

It provides $4.3 billion to the Indian Health Service. This has been a bipartisan effort with Mr. Dicks when he was chairman of this committee, with Mr. Moran when he was chairman of this committee, and now with me that we fully fund the Indian Health Services. This is a 5.8 percent increase in this bill to address the health care needs in Indian Country, including access to Indian health facilities and contractual obligations to tribes. It provides $108 million for the Smithsonian, including $75 million for the construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

It does several things for Westerners that live in public land States relative to grazing. There is a new provision that requires that the administrative review process first be exhausted before litigating on grazing issues and provides protection for trailing of livestock.

This, overall, is a good bill, and I think it's one that we can all be proud of. And, again, I want to thank Mr. Moran for his dedication and work on this. But, most of all, I want to thank the staff on both sides of the aisle. If you're not on this committee, if you don't work with this committee, you don't know how much time they put in, and they do an incredible job for Congress and for the American people.

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Mr. SIMPSON. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to clarify the intent of language included in the conference report on H.R. 2055, the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY12, regarding the management of forest roads.

In May of 2011 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a final ruling in NEDC v. Brown declaring for the first time that forest roads used for timber management are point sources and must have permits under section 402 of the Clean Water Act. The State of Oregon and the industry defendants have now asked the Supreme Court to review this decision. On Monday, December 12, the Supreme Court issued an order seeking the views of the Solicitor General signaling the possibility that the Court will review the case. However, the Ninth Circuit's decision remains in effect.

Section 429 of Division E exempts stormwater discharges from forest roads and other forestry activities from any such permit requirement for the rest of the fiscal year. This will ensure that neither EPA nor any state is forced to impose a permitting requirement while the Supreme Court is considering whether to review the Ninth Circuit's decision. With such an abrupt change in interpretation of the Act, it is important that there be an opportunity for the Supreme Court to weigh in. We encourage the Supreme Court to proceed with its determination of whether to review of the case, and this provision should in no way deter the Court's proceedings.

Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Speaker, Yucca Mountain is the repository for our nation's high level defense nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel under current law. This conference report does not change that fact. Regardless of the politically-based preferences of the Obama Administration, the Senate Majority Leader or the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, terminating Yucca Mountain would require Congress to amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

Mr. Speaker, if it in fact were the position of Congress to support termination of Yucca Mountain, surely we would have acted to amend the law. Congress has not amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act--or even considered terminating Yucca Mountain.

Decades were spent studying potential locations for a national repository--and Yucca Mountain was determined to be the best solution. Congress designated Yucca Mountain in 1987 as the national repository and has voted
to reaffirm that decision several times. There is no science-based or safety-based reason to abandon Yucca Mountain.

Those who work on nuclear waste issues will undoubtedly note that this bill no longer contains explicit language adopted by the House that prohibits the use of funds to close Yucca Mountain. Explicit language like this, though, is not required as it continues to be illegal for the Department of Energy to terminate the project--and thus illegal for the Department to spend federal dollars for that purpose. The Department of Energy has funding leftover from previous years should it choose to comply with the law and continue the Yucca Mountain licensing process regardless of this bill.

Mr. Speaker, the fact that the final bill clarifies that the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cannot terminate any project without a majority vote of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should not be overlooked. Over a year ago, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board rejected the Department of Energy's motion to withdraw the Yucca license application. That ruling should have been finalized after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted sustain it with two-to-two tie vote with one Commissioner abstaining. The Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission refused to release the results of their vote on the matter for almost a year. Instead, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has acted unilaterally to shut down the ongoing review of the Yucca Mountain application. This unprecedented, bureaucratic and orchestrated stall tactic has been questioned by Congress and former and current members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Unfortunately, in congressional hearings just this week we learned that this abuse of power is the rule--not the exception--when it comes to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman. It extends well beyond the policy and safety issue of Yucca Mountain and instead, absent serious changes, it appears to be putting the entire mission of the NRC at risk.

Mr. Speaker, I'm hopeful that Congress will continue vigorous oversight over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and continue to take all actions possible to ensure that the federal government keeps its existing legal obligation to move forward with Yucca Mountain.

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