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Providing for Consideration of H.R. 678, Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. SLAUGHTER. Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker. I thank the gentleman from Utah for yielding me the customary 30 minutes and yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, last Friday we received the news that the economy had only added 88,000 jobs in the month of March. The percentage of unemployed Americans dropped, but that is almost entirely because thousands of workers have given up looking for jobs at all.

This slowdown is a warning to Congress, but we won't take it, I feel sure, since we've pretty much ignored it. Unless this majority reverses the spending cuts contained in the sequester, the health of our economy is only getting worse.

Months ago, economists were warning that the sequester will stall out our economy and lead to job loss, and as we can see by the March data, their predictions are beginning to come true.

With economic warning bells beginning to toll, one would expect Congress to make job creation our number one priority. But one would certainly be wrong because we haven't done that at all. Unfortunately, such expectations don't even come close.

Instead of working on legislation to grow our economy and to create some good-paying jobs, we are wasting valuable session time discussing yet another bill that went nowhere in the last Congress, and I predict will go nowhere in this one as well. But we seem to have the time to waste.

The majority has decided that erasing environmental regulations for hydropower companies is a better use of time than putting Americans back to work and to help families pay their bills.

Furthermore, the bill before us today is a solution in search of a problem that does not exist. Despite the rhetoric of the majority, small conduit hydropower projects are rarely delayed because of environmental regulations. In fact, from 2006 to 2010, 13 exemptions were completed in less than a year, and in 2011 there were nine exemptions that were granted in an average of 40 days.

In addition, changes within the last year have made the process even easier for hydropower developers. Under the new regulations by the Bureau of Reclamation, all a developer has to do to avoid a full environmental assessment is to get a simple, 1 1/2 page form filled out with 15 boxes to check ``yes'' or ``no.'' That is certainly not a burdensome regulation. All they have to do is check the box ``yes'' or ``no,'' indicate the project is not in an especially sensitive area.

Most small conduit hydropower projects will easily pass this test because the reclamation sites are already developed. But despite what you may hear, there is little evidence that there is even a problem with hydropower regulation that needs to be solved.

Contained within today's legislation is a proposal to clarify the lines of authority between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This is a worthwhile effort that would receive bipartisan support, and we made that very clear. Standing alone, though, this proposal could pass on suspension within a matter of minutes. That would, of course, leave us with nothing to do here today, so here we are.

During the debate in the Natural Resources Committee, the majority was given the opportunity to agree to the noncontroversial and bipartisan parts of the legislation and drop their partisan attacks on environmental safeguards.

Unfortunately, the majority has once again rejected this chance for productive compromise and chosen the partisan path. And as a result, we are here spending time debating another partisan bill that will not pass the Senate and turning our back on the pressing economic needs of this country.

I've said many times on the floor during rules debates that CBS News had estimated it costs $24 million a week to run the Congress of the United States. And it has been embarrassing that we do so little work. But for millions of Americans, the luxury of the time that we take here is something they cannot afford.

I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' on the underlying legislation so we can get back to the task of growing our economy, repealing the sequester, and creating American jobs.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Ms. SLAUGHTER. I thank the gentleman.

Mr. Speaker, today's bill does nothing to address the pressing economic issues facing every American household and fails to stop the sequestration cuts that are threatening our economy as a whole. It's rather ambiguous. On one hand it gives; on the other hand it takes back away, but we'll get into that in the general debate.

Instead, today's legislation unnecessarily attacks environmental protections while doing nothing to create new jobs. Today's legislation includes a blanket waiver for all small conduit hydropower projects that generate less than 5 megawatts of power. The requirement is arbitrary and would fail to protect the environment. Environmental danger is not determined by the megawatts produced but whether the hydropower project is located where it is likely to do damage. A 1-megawatt project in the wrong location would be more harmful to the environment than a 6-megawatt project in the right location.

Perhaps most importantly, consideration of this legislation is taking up time that we could otherwise be using to repeal the sequester and create jobs. As I have mentioned repeatedly on the House floor, my colleague and ranking member of the Budget Committee, Mr. Van Hollen, has appeared at the Rules Committee repeatedly offering legislation to repeal the sequester and reduce our deficit in a responsible way. The Rules Committee on at least three times has never even allowed it to come to the floor. Despite voting on hydropower legislation twice in the last 13 months, the majority has rejected Mr. Van Hollen, who, as I said, is the ranking member on the Budget Committee, and his bill would save and create thousands of jobs.

Mr. Speaker, if we defeat the previous question, I will offer an amendment to the rule to bring up H.R. 1426 from Representative Tim Bishop of New York to roll back tax giveaways to big oil companies. The bill is known as the Big Oil Welfare Repeal Act. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to insert the text of the amendment in the Record along with extraneous matter immediately prior to the vote on the previous question.

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Ms. SLAUGHTER. Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' and defeat the previous question so that we can get back to trying to grow our economy and create American jobs, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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