Copyright ©2009 by Federal News Service, Inc., Ste. 500, 1000 Vermont Ave, Washington, DC 20005 USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Internet Service at www.fednews.com, please email Carina Nyberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-202-216-2706.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: The hearing will come to order and I'd like to say good morning to everyone and I'd particularly like to say this is our third and final budget hearing before the Interior Subcommittee. This morning we are honored to have our distinguished former colleague and now Interior Department secretary, Ken Salazar. Mr. Salazar said when I met him in the hall, "Are you going to give me a bad time this morning?" And I said, "How can we give you a bad time," right? I mean --
SEC. SALAZAR: Right. Right.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: -- I think most of us in the Senate that have worked with Senator Salazar believe he's really a wonderful person and we are so delighted that he's secretary of interior. So this hearing should be a piece of cake. (Laughter.) Joining the secretary at the witness table this morning is Pam Haze, the department's director of the budget, and so I'd like to say good morning to you, Ms. Haze, and it's a pleasure to see you again as well.
Mr. Secretary, the budget request you're presenting today totals $10.98 billion. That's an increase over last year's level of 904 million (dollars), or 9 percent. This is the largest budget increase in the past several years and represents a real push in the right direction in several important areas. First, I'd like to thank you very much for requesting full funding for the fire suppression account. Those of us in the West truly know its value.
The 445 million (dollars) in the Interior budget along with the 1.4 billion (dollars) in the Forest Service budget brings the administration's total fire suppression request to $1.8 billion. That's the same amount actually spent on average on each of the three prior fiscal years. So this means that if we're lucky neither agency will have to borrow from its non-fire accounts, which happens every year, and then hope and pray that the Congress replenishes these funds.
That's not a good way to do business and I'd like to applaud you for stepping up to the plate and acknowledging head on what fire suppression really costs. I'd also like to thank you for allocating for full fixed costs within your budget. As a former mayor, I know that setting aside funds to pay for such things as increased rent, utilities, and employee health care costs are not the fun things we like to put in our budgets. But the fact is that over the past eight years the department has absorbed more than $500 million in unfunded fixed costs, and that just can't keep going on and on.
That money came out of programs just the same as if the cuts had been proposed up front. So congratulations on reversing that trend. There are also substantial increases in funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, for the National Park Service, for energy development, and for a climate change initiative. All in all, you have presented us with a robust budget and I think in whole that this will be favorably received.
In the interest of time, Mr. Secretary, I'm not going to go through every line in your budget but I will say that I hope to engage you in questions on renewable energy development, abandoned mines, and drugs on public lands. I'd now like to recognize my very distinguished ranking member. I welcome him to this position and enjoy working with him -- Senator Alexander.
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): Thank you, Madame Chairman. Secretary Salazar, welcome back. It's good to see you, as the chairman said. We miss you and we're glad you're where -- but we're glad you're able to make the contribution that you are today.
I will reserve most of my comments until question time but let me just mention the areas that -- in which I'm especially interested. You and I worked together on Land and Water Conservation Fund -- had a little success on that across the aisle in finding a permanent source of funding for Land and Water Conservation Fund. I'd like -- I hope that's one of your legacies as secretary of interior and I'd like to work with you on that.
I'd like to talk with you a little bit about funding for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which has two or three times the visitors as some of our other popular parks but about half the funding just because of circumstances of history. I'd like to ask you a question about helicopter overflights in the parks. It seemed like a small item but there's supposed to be plans developed for dealing with those things, and since the law was passed in 2000 no plans have been developed. I'd like to find out what we can do to move that ahead.
And then picking up on what the chairman said, I've got some questions about what I would call the upcoming renewable energy sprawl. Those aren't my words. Those are the words of a conservation group. We all want renewable energy but the landscape is an important part of the environment as well, and you come from a beautiful state. I do too.
The chairman does too, and we want to make sure that we -- before we embark on these renewable energy projects -- they are massive in size -- and that we know what we're doing and that we take time to make sure we don't destroy the environment in the name of saving the environment, and I hope another of your legacies is to take the words that you used when you slowed down the Utah oil and gas lease sales. You talked about responsibly developing oil and gas supplies in a thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and cultural resources.
That applies to oil and gas but also applies to large solar plants to wind turbines on ridge tops to how close to the shore we would put wind turbines as you authorize them, and I -- that will be another area of my questions. But welcome. I look forward to working with you. I thank the chairman.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Mr. Secretary, welcome. We very much would like to hear from you.
SEC. SALAZAR: Thank you very, very much, Chairman Feinstein, and Ranking Member Alexander. Both of you are great senators and great former colleagues and present colleagues of mine because I view my role as secretary of interior as being interwoven with the work of your committee and your leadership and the work of your great staff, and we have many chapters to write together in the years ahead on issues that I know we share a common value. And the issues that we are working on are not Democrat or Republican issues. They're issues for America and for all of our population.
So I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today and I have a statement for the record that I will submit for the record, and I would like if it would be okay with the chairperson to then just make a few comments about the budget overall and my priorities.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: It would. Please proceed.
SEC. SALAZAR: Okay. When I came in to the position of secretary of interior one of the things that I wanted to do was to make sure that the people of this country understood the responsibilities of this department. It truly is the department of the Americas. We have responsibilities for 20 percent of the land mass of the United States, for 1.75 billion (ph) acres of the Outer Continental Shelf, and we have responsibilities that go from pole to pole and include the territories of the United States.
Some, I think, in the past felt the department was only a department of the West, but as Senator Alexander knows the Great Smokies are one of the icons of our national park systems. The wildlife refuges of Florida or the great parks and assets that we have in California and the tribal issues that we have all over this country really mean that we are enmeshed in all of the great issues that cover our landscapes and cover the peoples of America. And so one of the first things I did was I went to the Statue of Liberty because I wanted to make sure that people understood that this department was a department of the United States of America.
Within the work that President Obama has asked me to work on on behalf of this administration are the following five priorities, and I will be looking forward to working very closely with all of you as we work on these issues. The first is creating a new energy frontier and tackling the challenges of climate change. This budget reflects our priorities with respect to renewable energy, how we move forward to harness the power of the sun, the power of geothermal, the power of the wind but to do it also in an environmentally conscious way so that we are, as Senator Alexander spoke about with respect to the statement that I said on the Utah lease sales, making sure that as we move forward with the development of our renewable energy world, which we are going to develop, that we are also thoughtful and mindful of making sure that we are protecting those landscapes that both of you have fought so hard for so many decades and which I believe are very much an important part of my role as secretary of interior.
Secondly, I will work very hard to establish a treasured landscapes agenda for the United States of America. At the request of Senator Alexander a few weeks ago, maybe a few months ago now, I met with Henry Diamond and a number of other people who were involved in the creation originally of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. When one looks back at those conversations that took place in the secretary of interior's office with Stewart Udall, you are left with a sense, given our fights together here to put funding into the Land and Water Conservation Fund, that there truly has been a breach of the trust with the American people relative to the investment of resources that we have gotten from the Earth which belongs to the American people in the form of public lands.
When LWCF was created, the thought was that we would take the royalties from the offshore oil and gas development as well as some from the offshore and we would create a trust fund from which would flow the investments to make the landscapes that both of you so -- have fought so hard to protect a reality. The fact is last year we raised about $24 billion through the activities of the Minerals Management Service and the Bureau of Land Management, and at the end of the day there were only somewhere around $250 million that went into the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
And so I look forward to working with both of you, working with the White House, working with our colleagues in the House to take a (moon shot ?) with respect to investing in the treasured landscapes of America, and that will take us to the restoration of great places like the Bay Delta in California from an ecosystem perspective to the Chesapeake Bay to what we do in the Everglades to the kinds of investments that, Senator Alexander, you want to make in the heritage and future of the Great Smoky National Park. And so there's a great agenda that I want to work with you all on.
Third, I will help usher in with all of you a new 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps that reflects the realities of our times here in the 21st century. We need to get our young people connected up to our landscapes in terms of environmental education and understanding the importance of stewardship, and so this budget reflects that priority, for example, by allocating $30 million that will go into hunting and fishing programs for young people in the form of a state grant program that will be made available to the state.
It also includes $20 million which will go into educational and service programs for young people in the Department of Interior. This summer alone, based on money that you made available and direction that we've had from you and others here in the Congress, we will have 15,000 young people that will be working with us in the Department of Interior helping us restore trails and doing other kinds of service that are important in terms of engaging young people.
Fourth, we will do everything we can to empower the nation's Native American communities. The issues of law enforcement, of economic development, of education are huge challenges for Native Americans all across this country. Those issues are addressed in this budget by adding additional resources into law enforcement and into education.
They build off of the investments that we made through the recovery act into those agendas. Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry EchoHawk and I have already had several meetings on his first week of the job where we are moving forward with respect to that agenda on our Native American communities.
And finally, I will work very hard to help address some of the vexing water problems that faces -- that are in some ways and fundamentally really integrally connected to how we deal with taking care of our wildlife and our plant species. The Bay Delta in California is a great example of one of those very complex water supply issues which also has many other facets to it. The issues between Florida, Georgia, and Alabama with respect to the allocation of water on their rivers is also one of those issues that we will work on.
So those are some of my priorities. I'm proud of the budget that we have presented to all of you. I look forward to working with you in the days to come. I appreciate the confirmation that you gave to Assistant Secretary of Policy, Planning, and Budget Rhea Suh.
Rhea Suh comes here, I think, in her first day on the job today to hear the testimony before us, and Rhea, I think you are here.
MS. SPEAKER: She's right -- (inaudible).
SEC. SALAZAR: Well, here she is. So I want to introduce Rhea because she'll be working with us on a lot of these issues. Thank you very much.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. I'd like to begin with a subject and that's drugs on public lands. One of the things that's happened is that the cartels are extending their influence up from Mexico, running Mexican nationals in our national parks and some of our state parks. As a matter of fact, 70 percent of the marijuana found is really in either federal or state parks.
It is a very real and growing danger. Last year, as part of the appropriations bill I added 5.1 million (dollars) to the BLM budget and 3.3 million (dollars) to the National Park Service budget so those agencies could gear up and begin a coordinated effort with the Forest Service and the DEA. Now, Congress was late in passing the omnibus bill so the 2009 money, I understand, is just making its way out into the field. Can you tell us what BLM and the park service will do with these funds?
SEC. SALAZAR: We -- Senator Feinstein, you put your finger on a -- on the law enforcement issue that needs to be addressed and what we will do is we will hire with the money made available through last year's budget as well as this year's budget additional law enforcement officers to help deal with the eradication of marijuana and to deal with drug interdiction not only on the border -- (inaudible) -- as well as on our other public lands. It's interesting to note that when you think about the Department of Interior sometimes people don't recognize the fact that we essentially have responsibility for 793 miles of the border between the United States and Mexico.
We also have responsibility for great stretches of the border between Canada and the United States, and our law enforcement officers working with the Bureau of Land Management, working with the BIA, are often in the midst of dealing with many of these issues. We had a national park ranger who was killed on the border just several years ago involving some of the drug activity on the border. So it's an issue which I will take seriously.
It's an issue which I will work on with the Department of Justice and Homeland Security to try to develop a coordinated effort to address these issues.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Yes. I just want to make the point -- this marijuana growing is not benign. These are Mexican nationals. They are armed and they are very dangerous, and what I'm most interested in and put the money in is for your participation in the Joint Task Force to go in and clean this stuff out of our parks and keep it that way. Now, let me ask you, would you confirm that those funds are figured into your base budget in 2010?
SEC. SALAZAR: Yes.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Okay. Now, how soon do you anticipate that you will be up and running and participating in future raids with DEA and the Forest Service?
SEC. SALAZAR: Senator Feinstein, we are working on a number of law enforcement issues within the Department of Interior, some of which I can talk about and some of which I can't yet talk about. But we will be focused on this issue as soon as we can, and part of what we are trying to do is to get the Department of Interior stood up and that means bringing in the people that can make sure that we're carrying out the requirements and the suggestions that we're getting from you on these very important issues. And so last week we started making some progress. We need to make some more progress to get it done.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: I just want you to know that this money is there with the view that you will in fact participate in these raids. They have been dormant as of late and this concerns me.
SEC. SALAZAR: I can only tell you that we will be working at it. I was attorney general of my state for six years. I support law enforcement in many different ways and this will be a high priority for me.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Okay. Good. All right. Because I will come back and back and back. Your budget proposes 50 million (dollars) for activities designed to increase the use of renewable energy. Of that, 16 million (dollars) would go to the Bureau of Land Management so they can expedite 200 solar projects and 240 wind projects out west. More than 130 of those are in California. I spoke to you in person about this.
As you know, I was the author of the Desert Protection Act which created the Joshua Tree/Death Valley National Parks and the Mojave Preserve. For about six years in the 1990s we raised private money, namely $40 million, and some federal money, 17 million (dollars), to go in and buy 600,000 acres of in-holdings held by catelas (ph). Well, one day somebody comes in to me and says, "Do you know that they are putting solar troughs in these in-holdings that have been purchased for conservation?" And I said, "You're kidding."
So I got no advanced notice. I go down to the desert and I visit about eight projects and I find in fact not only are they proposed but they are enormous in size -- one 15 square miles, one eight square miles, one seven square miles, one five square miles, and on. Now, these are huge solar troughs, big towers, fences, steam plants, and all of the infrastructure.
If you have a 15-square-mile facility -- and this was the BrightSource proposal -- I mean, that has a huge mark on land that we're trying to conserve. I've spoken with you about it. I want to raise it in the public because we are about ready to introduce a monument to protect these lands and we've discussed it with everybody. We've amended it.
I had the military in yesterday. I believe we're going to get some good solutions out of it. But I think this planning process really has to be looked at and the size has to be looked at because you would have a 20-mile corridor just filled with this stuff and way more than the 33 percent clean fuel requirement that California has to make its commitment by 2020. So I'd like to know how you're handling these permits.
The second point is as we traveled through this area with the Land and Water Conservation Fund -- Wildlands Conservancy, excuse me -- they pointed out that there was private land in the area which really was much more suitable for use for this -- you know, flat, not in areas that are in a conservation mode, et cetera. And the down side of that was I was told well, the people that went for private land had to go to the back of the line and the BLM land was at the front of the line. I don't believe that's the right approach and it seems to me that -- and I know the environmental studies are being done and I guess what I objected to most was the inordinate size of these things, just enormous in terms of their scope and what they do to the land.
And then the last point is when we left at Daggett we saw photovoltaic and a solar trough and the factories, but what had happened is the people running it had walked away from it and just left it all there. So that raises the point, much like abandoned mines, that these developers have to be responsible and if they're going to leave -- vacate the site, take their equipment with them because the site is essentially changed forever from the desert topography. It's leveled, artificial services -- surfaces brought in, and I'm for this but I'm for it in moderation with size that is limited so that it doesn't really become an enduring blight upon the land for miles and miles and miles.
SEC. SALAZAR: I appreciate your raising this issue with me from, I think, my very first days in the Department of Interior, Senator Feinstein. It is an issue that we are very aware of with respect to the deserts of California and with respect to solar siting elsewhere around the Southwest and wind power throughout the country, and what I can tell you is this -- that as we move forward with turning the new page and developing solar and wind and geothermal energy that we have to do it in a way that is thoughtful, that is not helter skelter, that essentially makes sure that we're protecting the treasured landscapes of America.
Going back to Senator Alexander's statement with respect to oil and gas development, we have to have that same kind of approach with respect to renewable energy projects. Right now, the 240 applications that you speak about, many of those applications were pending when I came into office. There was not any kind of significant planning process with respect to renewable energy in the Department of Interior, frankly, because it had not been prioritized. And we are now moving forward with the Bureau of Land Management, with our other agencies -- Fish and Wildlife and National Parks -- to develop a process that essentially is no different than the kind of process, Senator Feinstein, that you were so used to in being mayor of the city of San Francisco.
It's a land use planning process where you essentially take a look at the entire landscape relative to what the scientists will tell you are the technically possible developments for renewable energy. It doesn't mean that you're going to develop renewable energy in all of those places because many of them are inappropriate because of ecological values or other natural interests that need to be protected. And so you have to go through a screening process to determine where the best siting of these facilities will be, and we are engaged in a very robust effort through the renewable energy and climate change task force that I created in the department to bring all of the agencies together so we address the specific kinds of concerns that you're raising here today.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much. I really appreciate that and I hope -- part of the -- my problem was the surprise. You know, here I was the author of the bill that raised some -- that helped raise some of this money and then bingo, all of a sudden this was happening. And so it was an element of surprise and I really appreciate your taking this action. I think it's the right way to go and I'll be just as supportive as I can. Senator Alexander?
SEN. ALEXANDER: Thank you, Madame Chairman. Mr. Secretary, let me follow up on Senator Feinstein's comments. I think what she describes in California is a good indicator of what we hope doesn't happen and which -- and I'm dead serious when I think one of the important legacies you could leave in addition to the building up the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the other areas you mentioned is that to be able to look back and say that we had an expansion of renewable energy in the country but we did it in the right way -- that we didn't -- that we recognized that from the days of John Muir and Ansel Adams to Lady Bird Johnson that the -- you know, the great American landscape is really what you're -- that's your job really and it's what we all love and we don't want to destroy the environment in the name of saving the environment.
Now, your statement mentioned some very, you know, very big numbers.
I mean, the energy potential you mentioned, especially in the West -- a thousand gigawatts of wind potential off the Atlantic coast, 900 gigawatts off the Pacific coast, in terms of 21 million acres of public land with high wind potential. Senator Feinstein talked about large size. I think it's important for us to keep in mind the size.
This is not a point that -- I'm not trying to say renewable energy is good or bad. I think it's good. But let's say a nuclear power plant produces about a thousand megawatts of power. To get that from a solar thermal plant like Senator Feinstein was discussing you'd need 30 square miles, which is about 5 miles on each side. That would just equal one nuclear plant, which is one square mile.
And you'd still need the nuclear plant because the sun only shines a part of the time. Biomass in the South is what said would be a good renewable energy for us. We talked about that in our hearing with the Forest Service last week. There are a couple of million tons of biomass in Tennessee forests, so said the head of the Forest Service. That sounds like a lot but that would produce about 200 megawatts of power and the TVA uses 27,000 megawatts of power on a regular basis.
You'd need a forest the size of the Great Smoky Mountains, which is 550,000 acres, to feed a 1,000-megawatt plant on a sustained basis. That's one nuclear power plant equals a forest the size of the whole Smoky Mountains. On wind, it's even bigger -- 270 square miles. That's 16 miles on a side to equal one nuclear unit, and an unbroken line of 500-foot-tall wind turbines from Chattanooga to Bristol in our state -- that's throughout all of east Tennessee -- would give us one- fourth of the electricity from one unit of nuclear plant and really destroy the views that we treasure so much.
Boone Pickens was asked whether he was going to put any of these 50-story wind turbines on his ranch and he said, "Hell, no. They're ugly," you know, and we agreed with him in our part of the -- our part of the woods, and I have up here a map and you can see the blue part over in the east -- we were talking about the west but in the east the place where the wind turbines would go is the -- is, you know, the foothills of the Smokies up through the Blue Ridge Parkways on up through Pennsylvania into the White Mountains.
I mean, those are the treasured ridge tops and the wind turbines only go on ridge tops in the east because the wind doesn't blow as much and in our part of the world it only blows about 20 percent. And then we have the coasts. Now, you and I were part of debates about oil and gas and how far off should it go. I think one of the proposals that Republicans had was that oil and gas drilling should be at least 10 miles off the coast.
Well, maybe wind turbines should be 15 or 18 miles off the coast. Then you couldn't see them. Then there's also the question of why do we need these large transmission lines to go across densely-populated New York City or densely-populated California to bring in wind power from the Dakotas when you've got 900 gigawatts in the Pacific Ocean and a thousand gigawatts in the Atlantic Ocean. The secretary of energy and the environment from Massachusetts wrote a letter and said that's a big waste of money to bring renewable energy from the middle of the country to the coasts when the coasts have hundreds of thousands of megawatts of wind power of their own if they want it and they can use their money to go offshore.
So my question is this. Tell me more about your plan. I mean, if 20 percent of our electricity were wind, as some people say it should be, that'd be an area the size of West Virginia. I think you said it could be 50 percent or replace coal -- that'd be an area 2.5 times the size of West Virginia. Where is all this stuff going to go and can we take your concept of renewable energy zones, for example, and be assured that we don't have the kind of renewable energy sprawl that one major conservation group talked about -- that we can say yes, we're going to have this much -- we're going to have it here -- transmission lines are going to be here so we don't have to wake up in the morning and find out that we've got a row of wind turbines three times as tall as our football stadium going along the edge of the Smoky Mountains, as Senator Feinstein found in the deserts of California?
SEC. SALAZAR: Thank you, Senator Alexander. First, let me say I appreciate, again, your advocacy for the landscapes of America and I remember your long history with respect to your involvement back in the 80s and into the 90s and our work together here on the Land and Water Conservation Fund and concerns that you raised, which I believe are legitimate concerns relative to the aesthetic issues that you talked about with respect to wind.
So let me say I appreciate the concerns that you raised. Let me also say that the new energy frontier, I think, is here and we are going to move forward in a very robust way to develop alternative energies including solar and wind and geothermal. Now, the numbers that you speak about are numbers that are technically developable numbers. Those are numbers which I did not create.
Those are numbers that came out of the National Renewable Energy Lab (sic) in Golden, Colorado, which they have worked on over the years, and that's exactly what they are. It doesn't mean that you are going to develop all of those gigawatts or megawatts of power that you spoke about because there is going to be limitations relative to where you actually do the siting of some of these facilities. Second of all, I want us to continue to underscore the connection between the new energy world and jobs here in the United States.
We expect that hundreds of thousands of jobs can in fact be developed with respect to the renewable energy industry. We have approximately 160,000 jobs today in America that you can connect up to both the solar and the wind industry. In Tennessee, for example, Senator Alexander, there was a company, Hemlock Semiconductor Corporation, which has opened up a solar energy facility that is creating 500 jobs for the state of Tennessee.
There are other plants there as well. And so the combined solar and wind companies are already providing significant jobs to the United States as we develop these new forms of energy. Thirdly, I want to comment on an issue that I think is integral to your points and that is the question of transmission -- how do you get the renewable energy resources from the places where they are produced to the places where they are consumed.
Let me focus in specifically just on the Atlantic coast. When you look at New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Governor Carcieri from Rhode Island, who's been a major leader in some of these efforts, their view is that with the potential of a thousand gigawatts of power off of the Atlantic that you essentially could plug that energy into the grid without having to build a lot of new transmission because you essentially would take the power from the wind turbines offshore, run a cable, and plug it into an already existing grid system.
New Jersey has a host of projects which Governor Corzine and others are ready to move forward with. Delaware is in the same position. Rhode Island is in the same position. New York is in the same position. We hope to be able to move forward with the permitting of some of these facilities in the very, very near future.
Now, as they move forward, part of what we will have to do is to do the environmental analysis to make sure that we are taking care of the oceans in those particular areas where these projects are to be planned. We now have rules that we have issued with respect to offshore wind in the Atlantic. Those rules have been held in abeyance really for the last three years.
We now have -- we have broken through the logjam. Those rules are out there and we are processing the permit applications. In terms of the aesthetic and landscape issues, which you raise off the Atlantic as an example, New Jersey has wanted to locate its wind projects and they have -- I think it's six wind projects that they hope to be able to build in the very near term, and their proposal is to have those projects built somewhere in the neighborhood of six to eight miles off of the coast. The state of Delaware has a project, which is a significant size project, in the Atlantic and their proposal is to build that project 13 miles off the coast of Delaware.
So I think the issues that you are raising, Senator Alexander, and which Senator Feinstein has raised with me as well is that there is a way in which we can move forward with this renewable energy revolution and at the same time make sure that we are doing it in a thoughtful way that provides the balance of the need for energy and the protection of our landscapes.
SEN. ALEXANDER: Thank you, Madame Chair.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much, Senator, and thank you, Secretary. Senator Tester, being the gentleman that he always is, will cede to Senator Reed because he has another appointment. So Senator Reed --
SEN. JACK REED (D-RI): Thank you very much. Thank you, Madame Chairman. Thank you, Senator Tester. Thank you very much. Welcome, Mr. Secretary, and you've already commented on the activities in Rhode Island to develop wind power. In fact, our Coastal Resources Management Council is undertaking a great deal of scientific studies to help site these facilities appropriately and the marine Minerals Management Service is a critical component of any study.
They have provided technical support. They've consulted with Rhode Island but it's been sporadic and somewhat ad hoc, and I would very much encourage you to commit a full-time personnel coordination so that we could move these projects along. These -- as you point out in your statement, Rhode Island and other states along the Atlantic coast are actively moving to get these wind farms into production -- not theoretically, not (in the ?) conceptually, but actually moving, and the early involvement of the MMS would be absolutely helpful on a full-time regular basis.
So if you could consider that I'd really appreciate it, Mr. Secretary. And also in terms of their participation we are doing a lot of scientific research -- our Coastal Resource Management Council -- but it would be unfortunate if our research didn't comply with what ultimately the Minerals Management Service considers to be appropriate, so if that could be integrated also. And, in fact, I would ask very sincerely if you could designate a team to work full time with the state not only to coordinate on all of these different activities, particularly to verify the science, and if you could consider that I'd appreciate it.
SEC. SALAZAR: Absolutely.
SEN. REED: Thank you.
SEC. SALAZAR: You know, let me just -- let me just say if I --
SEN. REED: Yes, please, Secretary.
SEC. SALAZAR: -- if I may, Senator Reed, thank you for your leadership and your friendship as well and thank you for the work that you and the leadership in Rhode Island has already done with respect to wind energy. I held four hearings around the country -- one in Atlantic City, one in New Orleans, one in San Francisco, and one in Alaska in Anchorage, and actually a fifth one in Dellingham, Alaska, as well -- with respect to the Outer Continental Shelf.
It was really clear to me that in the Atlantic coast area there is tremendous interest on the part of the leadership to move forward with renewable energy and wind projects off the Atlantic, and we have included in this budget $24 million with respect to moving forward with renewable energy projects in the offshore. In the interim, we are not stopping, however, and using resources that we already have. We broke through the logjam on the rules and we look forward to working hand in hand with you and Rhode Island to make these projects a reality.
SEN. REED: Well, thank you, Mr. Secretary. Again, I think a formal designation of a team, some type of understanding (between ?) the state to working closely together and even some financial support for our efforts. We've already put state dollars (in would be helpful ?). I also noted that you've talked about establishing four regional officers in California, Nevada, Wyoming, and Arizona to help speed permitting of renewable projects. Are you considering something on the Atlantic coast? Because as you point out, there's a lot of activity there.
SEC. SALAZAR: You know, I think we would probably do it. There will be a focus on the Atlantic because I think that's the primary area for wind development in the offshore, and so because we have MMS located here in Washington in the offshore area it does seem to me to make sense to have a group of people that are specifically assigned to working on these wind projects on the offshore. Part of the conversation I've had with some of the governors on the Atlantic is to see whether we can start a dialogue on how we do this across the Atlantic as a whole as opposed to each state doing its own thing, and so we are having some conversations about that. But this I will guarantee you, Senator Reed -- that we are focused like a laser beam on the wind potential off of Rhode Island and the other states that have shown great interest in leadership.
SEN. REED: Thank you. Just one final point -- that is, in all of this we can't forget the equities of many different parties. One is the fishing industry. In fact, one of the things that the state is doing through their modeling, through their analysis, is trying to minimize the impact of the -- these developments on traditional fishing grounds, and I -- again, I think that's something that should be within the context of your responsibilities.
SEC. SALAZAR: I agree with you and the money that we are currently using as we move forward with the environmental analysis for these wind projects and money that we requested for it from the Congress in this budget with respect to renewable energy projects will go into those kinds of analysis.
SEN. REED: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much, Senator Reed. Senator Tester?
SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): Thank you, Senator Feinstein, and it's good to have you here, Secretary Salazar. I appreciate the work that you have done in this position -- appreciate your work ethic -- appreciate the long hours you put in because I know you have and it shows. Your answers to many of the questions that were asked before me, in my opinion, are spot on. So thank you.
I want to talk a little bit about abandoned mine dollars. It was eliminated in this -- in your budget. We have about 4,000 abandoned mines in Montana. Many if not most are on federal lands. Just -- and they're a problem. They're a problem for water quality. They're a problem. What's the plan? Because they're not going to go away?
SEC. SALAZAR: First, Senator Tester, let me say that the issue of abandoned mines is a major issue throughout the country and in particular, in many places in the west; Montana, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado.
We know that there are not dozens, but there are really thousands of abandoned mines that were created really at a time when we didn't have the kinds of environmental laws in place that we have today. They create threats to the public safety and they are issues that we have to deal with.
Now, Montana has used money that it gets from the reformation fees of its coal to try to address this very huge problem which Montana faces. The Administration's budget looked at what their coal program had been set up to do with respect to those reformation fees and made the determination that, with respect to coal mine reclamation, those monies were not needed for that particular purpose.
Having said that, that does not take away or minimize the importance of trying to do something with respect to the abandoned mine issue and it is my hope that we can figure out a way of addressing that issue; it may be in part, through what we're able to do through mining law reform as we move forward with that agenda.
SEN. TESTER: It is -- and I don't need to tell you this; you know this as well, a lot better than I do.
The AML monies that Montana has accounts set up for, if it goes in its used for mine clear up; it works in Montana. We didn't use it to -- (inaudible) -- our general fund, we used it to clean up mines. I would hope that we do not take our eye off the ball and I know from your previous statement, you know that.
I look forward to working with you to make sure that we continue that program and I know that the chairman feels the same way about it, as far as getting those mines cleaned up.
There are several things in the budget dealing with Native Americans. One of them is strip funding for community development programs to train American Indians as skilled workers. Another one is to eliminate funding for critical housing improvement programs, which serves of course the poor in Indian country.
I guess my question is, is this being shifted to another agency; out of Interior VIA over to Labor or Housing or -- what's going on, because these are programs that I think are viable programs. To eliminate them without a backup some where else -- I don't want duplication so if its being shifted somewhere else, I'd like to know that.
SEC. SALAZAR: Senator Tester, I appreciate the question.
I will just communicate what I said in my opening statement earlier and that is, the issue of empowering our Native American communities is very important to me and I know how important they are to you in Montana, how they are to places in North Dakota, California and lots of other places.
We will have a robust agenda relative to the economic development and law enforcement and educational issues for Indian country. We invested significant amounts of money, as you well know from our conversations concerning education and housing and law enforcement from the recovery funds that are received under the Department of Interior.
We also recognize that there are other agencies that are involved in delivering these services to Indian country, including Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services. So we are working to develop a coordinated approach to how we deliver these services to Indian country.
SEN. TESTER: I appreciate that; once again, just as with the abandoned mine monies -- and I think it is ridiculous, quite frankly, to have as many agencies dealing with the same problem as we do and so I think consolidation and making sure we get the most bang for the buck and making sure the money gets to the ground; that effort is a noble effort and needs to be done.
I just don't want the programs to go away without something back there helping Native Americans so they just don't have to hold the stop sign, they can actually be wearing the piece of equipment that's behind that stop sign; I think you see it the same way.
Just in closing, real quick; thanks for coming to Montana in April. We appreciate the visit. Don't forget, we've got to ride up into St Mary's Plain at some point in time, your schedule permitting.
SEC. SALAZAR: I will be in Montana again, Senator Tester, as I will in Tennessee, as I will in California.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: That will cover them all.
Mr. Secretary, I'd like to just continue on the abandoned mine subject because we have 47,000 abandoned mines in California. An estimated 13,000 are on BLM land. Now, thousands have major safety or water quality hazards and some of these are really in popular recreation areas.
Earlier this year, I introduced a bill; the Abandoned Mines Reclamation Act. It created an abandoned mine clean up fund, it established spending priorities for the clean up fund based on the severity of risk to public health and safety and the impact on natural resources, and it would direct you to create an inventory of abandoned mines on all federal, state, tribal, local and private land.
I'd like to ask that you take a look at the bill, let me know what you think of it. The committee feels they may well try to legislate on an appropriation bill just to get it done; it's a possibility so if you would look at it, I would appreciate it.
In 2008, I put $1.9 million into BLM and National Park Service budgets to identify and remediate hazardous abandoned mines in California. In 2009, I added $8.1 million and under the stimulus, your department allocated a total of $52 million for mine clean up work that should be getting underway now.
So, one of the things I'd like to do is ask you how that is going -- in other words, the money appropriated by the stimulus.
The second question is do you have a prioritized list of abandoned mines on public lands?
SEC. SALAZAR: On the second question, we should have one.
I'm not aware that there is one that exists today, but its something that we will work on as soon as I get my Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals, my Solicitor General and a whole host of other people -- a BLM Director -- that I need really to be able to do the work that you and others are asking of me. We will do it and we will get it done.
On the overall issue of the abandoned mine challenge that we face -- let me just say we'll work with this committee; I understand the importance of the issue, I understand that we have a major role because many of these mines are located on our public lands, many -- most of them on BLM lands. It's something that is of high importance to me.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, in a nutshell, what I'm saying is we have specifically appropriated now $62 million to get cracking on these mines and I'm a little bit frustrated trying to find out what's happening, is there a priority list -- there should be -- and therefore, I don't know, maybe we should --
I'd like to have Senator Alexander take a look at the bill; maybe we need to pass it, but the money is now there and there has to be a prioritized list. It would seem to me -- this is three years of appropriating money and we ought to get the list.
SEC. SALAZAR: I will see if there is a list that we can get to you, Senator Feinstein.
Let me just say this -- two points.
First, with respect to the recovery project monies which this committee worked so hard to get to the Department of Interior; what we did is we went through those funds, including the funds that were made available for reclamation of abandoned mines, and selected those projects which were shovel ready because that was the purpose which you had given us in terms of the stimulative consequence you wanted from the investment of those monies.
So, the reclamation projects on abandoned mines that were being funded through the recovery dollars have been identified and those projects will get, in fact, done.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well then, would you send us the list please?
SEC. SALAZAR: I will get you the list with respect to recovery funded projects.
On your water question on whether we have created that inventory across the country with respect to abandoned mines, let me take a look at that and I will get additional information back to you, but I understand the enormity of the problem and the importance of the problem.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Right.
Our committee clerk actually went and took pictures of some of these, particularly in California on BLM land, so we can share those with you as well.
I also would like to thank you -- I was reading your testimony -- for including the statement on Brian O'Neal. You know, his memorial service -- this was a wonderful park superintendent of the Golden Gate Recreation area and he was enormously popular and I think 3,000 people turned out for a memorial service, which is really quite unusual and wonderful.
So, thank you for your comments in your written testimony; they are appreciated.
SEC. SALAZAR: I appreciate that, Senator Feinstein, and let me just say if I may, that Brian O'Neal was one of the heroes of our national park system and one of the truths about this department is with 73,000 employees, which include the seasonal that we have on board, they are very good and wonderful public servants.
Whether they work in Tennessee or in the Dakotas or California, it has been one of the highlights of my time at Interior.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Senator?
SEN. ALEXANDER: Thank you.
Mr. Secretary, first, we very much hope you'll be able to come to the Great Smokey Mountains' 75th Anniversary celebration in the fall and if you can, you'll be welcomed by lots of people.
The President can come as well; he's been invited by the governors of North Carolina and Tennessee.
Would you put on your list -- after you get a few more employees on board -- the Smokey's Air Tour Management Plan -- the over-flights of the national parks? That's an issue in some places and a law was passed -- Senator Akaka did a lot of work on it in 2000 and there haven't been any -- it's an argument between the FAA and the National Park Service and we can talk about it some time.
I'd like to get that going; I'd like to see one, for example, for the Great Smokey Mountains area.
Secondly, just a couple of observations on what was said earlier; you mentioned hemlock, and I don't want to get into an energy debate with you because I'm talking about landscape. We do have these two new solar plants making polysilicone in Tennessee; they're billion dollar investments that goes to make solar cells -- we're trying to be a solar hub down there of energy research with Oakridge and with Sharp Manufacturing in Memphis.
What's interesting to note is, each of the two polysilicone plants, including the one you mentioned, use 120 megawatts of electricity. Now, the only -- the governor has started a five megawatt solar facility in Tennessee that covers 20 acres -- in other words, those solar jobs would not be there if they were relying on windmills and solar energy.
They have to get their energy from nuclear and coal and natural gas in order to be able to be in Tennessee; 120 megawatts is a huge amount.
Second, I totally agree with your focus on wind power offshore. I think that makes the most sense -- the question it raises to me as you do your planning is, one reason we thought that 10 miles offshore might be good for oil and gas drilling is you couldn't see it 10 miles offshore. You'd have to go 15 or 16 miles offshore not to be able to see the big wind turbines and you might was to think about that.
That also raises the question to me again of if you're going to do that on the east coast and the west coast, then why would we spend hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars and rate payer dollars trying to bring wind from North Dakota to New York City when all you've got to do is plug it in, as you said, from out there.
But, here is my question -- listening to Senator Feinstein and others, someone said -- I believe the chairman -- that there were 47,000 abandoned mines across the country --
SEN. FEINSTEIN: No, in California.
SEN. ALEXANDER: In California.
Well, if 20 percent of our electricity is wind, that would take 130,000 wind turbines that are 50 stories tall, 2 megawatts each. So even if we could think about an appropriate place to put them --
Wouldn't be a good idea to require the developers that put up a barn to take them down if they don't use them anymore because the subsidy might go away, in which case many of them would not be viable, the price of energy might change -- lets say we have a breakthrough in solar power and suddenly its cheep and everybody says rather than putting up windmills, we'll just put panels on our rooftops -- or they wear out after about 15 years.
Wouldn't be a good idea to require a bond so we don't have senators 20 years from now coming with the abandoned windmill legislation like Senator Feinstein's about to come forward with the abandoned mine legislation?
SEN. FEINSTEIN: And you can be assured if I'm around, I will.
SEC. SALAZAR: I'm sure you will be around.
SEN. ALEXANDER: What about the bond idea?
SEC. SALAZAR: Let me -- the bond idea makes sense.
What we need to do is make sure that as we are permitting renewable energy projects, that we're doing it cradle to grave, that is to say, from the permit and environmental assessments to the end of the project and the decommissioning of the project to make sure that the landscape and environment is restored as great as possible back to its original conditions.
It's really like something that's on our agenda.
Very quickly, I will get back to you on the helicopter flights in general. On nuclear, you raised that a couple of times, Senator Alexander. We are very open, as part of the Obama Energy Comprehensive Plan, to looking at nuclear being part of our energy program for the nation.
Thirdly, I want to comment just a little bit in terms of the Dakotas and the winds from the high plains. There is, at the end of the day, in terms of onshore wind, what we have to do is to deal with the reality of transmission and it may be that the great wind resources, which we do have in the Dakotas and places like Wyoming, other places will be able to provide power into places like Chicago and the mid-west and tie into a system where we can move energy around.
There are -- that is why we have to be very thoughtful with respect to locating the renewable energy generation facilities, but also be very thoughtful about how we are placing them relative to our transmission capabilities which we currently have, and transmission capabilities to be built in the future.
SEN. ALEXANDER: Madame Chairman, if I could only say -- I haven't asked the Secretary questions about the Land/Water Conservation Fund, but he knows how interested I am in supporting him in those efforts; how much I enjoyed working with him on those items before.
I do think -- and I know his interest in this and I do think he has an opportunity to leave a great legacy in that area and I hope to be able to support that and work with him on it, as we have before.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much, Senator.
We're joined by Senator Dorgan; Senator, please, take over.
SEN. DORGAN: Thank you very much, Senator Feinstein.
I apologize that I have been delayed at another hearing.
Secretary Salazar, thank you for being with us.
Mr. Secretary, you were in North Dakota recently visiting an Indian tribe and some energy projects; I want to ask you about something we talked about then. It's not a big national policy, but its one that's an irritant for a lot of folks.
We have the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Badlands, and we have a problem with over population of elk. So, the question was how do you thin the elk herd? Originally, the National Park Service talked about maybe hiring federal sharpshooters and then using helicopters to transport out the carcasses and -- just completely devoid of common sense.
In the Grand Tetons, for 50 years, there has been an opportunity when they have to thin the herd, they go ahead and qualify certain hunters who are capable hunters, allow them to come in as agents and thin the herd taking one elk carcass per hunter out of the park; doing it without any federal cost at all -- no helicopters, no federal sharpshooters.
So, I've been trying to get them to see if I could get to the same position in North Dakota at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. They've held a bunch of meetings now -- a good many meetings across the state; not allowing anyone to speak at the meetings, which is a very curious thing. Now, they're thinking maybe they will allow some hunters, but not allow any hunter to take the meat --
The problem is they've just got themselves wound around a tree like a rope around a tree trying to figure out what should take you and me about 10 minutes to come to a conclusion on.
Can you help us get to a conclusion that just allows the federal government to get the elk herd thinned without spending federal money and allowing qualified hunters to come in and take the meat home and its all over and we can free up a little time for these big ole planners down at the Park Service who have just met themselves coming and going trying to figure it out?
SEC. SALAZAR: Senator Dorgan, the answer is yes, and let me say that I very much enjoyed my visit to North Dakota and the review of the carbon sequestration program, which is the only one in the Western Hemisphere that is actually up and running and to do the work that we did at the Indian reservations and other things that we did at your invitation into North Dakota.
The Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the elk issue is one I think which calls out for common sense solutions and that is what we will push. We do have a list of about 1,000 items that have piled up from United States Senators, numbers of the United States Congress and governors, and I need to get people into place so that I can start executing on some of the requests have been me of me; this is one, which is on my radar screen as you and I have discussed.
At Rocky Mountain National Park, we came up with a common sense solution that involved hunting and that uses the reality which we all know -- those of us who come from that background -- that hunting is in fact a wildlife management tool and if we have elk as wildlife in our national parks, there is a way in which we can do it in a common sense way that still protects the mission of the National Park Service and National Park units.
SEN. DORGAN: Mr. Secretary, I have a lot of confidence in you, so I look forward to working with you on that common sense solution.
One final question; as you know, I chair the Indian Affairs Committee and we have very serious law enforcement problems on Indian reservations. One in three Indian women will be raped or sexually assaulted during their lifetime. On some Indian reservations and the Standing Rock Reservation that straddles North and South Dakota, the rate of violent crime is nearly six times that of the national average -- not triple or quadruple; six times.
You have nine -- I believe nine law enforcement officers that are providing 24 hour days, 7 days a week law enforcement on an area the size of the state of Connecticut. Obviously, an emergency call for law enforcement help might be answered in eight hours; could be the next day -- on an emergency basis.
We've got all of these problems -- we have a place called Artesia in New Mexico training tribal police candidates. They get about 150 people a year into Artesia and graduate about 50 percent of them. So, we get about 80 new graduates a year on tribal law enforcement issues.
We need to establish a second area -- I've talked to you about that -- I just wanted to especially call your attention to the need in the BIA that you're involved with down at Interior to help us address this serious law enforcement problem. It is urgent on many reservations, in many states across the country.
If you would work with us on that, I'd sure appreciate it. We do need to establish a second location for an Indian police academy; we obviously need to be graduating more than 80 a year. You and I have talked about that as well.
So, you inherit a pretty big job, and by the way, congratulations on your selection for the head of the BIA, the Assistant Secretary's job, that's been open and vacant for half of the last five or six years, which is shameful; you have a good candidate that we have now moved to the United States Senate. I think that's going to help a great deal.
SEC. SALAZAR: Thank you, Senator Dorgan and let me say thank you as well for your leadership and advocacy in getting Larry EchoHawk confirmed as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.
I have already met with him; this was his first week on the job and we have placed these issues on his agenda. Since the Assistant Secretary for Policy Management of Budget also was just confirmed and is sitting right behind. I will ask Rhea Suh to take a look at the very question which you raise; that is, we have a $500,000 increase here to provide an outreach program for police training from the current enlisting academy.
It seems to me that the concept that you raised of having an academy that is not in Artesia, New Mexico, but an additional one up in the northern part of the country, is one that makes some sense (conceptually ?).
Let me put that on the radar screen and Larry EchoHawk's screen and lets come back to you with something that we might be able to do.
SEN. DORGAN: One final thank you -- on energy development, particularly oil development; in our state, as you know, oil development was occurring more south and west of the Indian reservation (affiliated ?) tribes. It was the largest assessed recoverable oil reserve in the history of the lower 48 states, called the Bakken Shale.
We had up to 100 rigs drilling new wells every 30 or 35 days and moving and if you got a map and see where they're going to drill the new wells, they weren't drilling them on the Indian reservation, despite the fact that was right in the middle of ground zero. It was because there's a 49 step process and four different federal offices that had to do all kinds of issues; so the result was we didn't have any wells up there that were being drilled.
You and your former Interior Secretary have addressed this and we now have some capability and we're seeing some wells drills, finally, on the reservation, so, that's a big start. I hope you'll give a lot of attention to that because you know, there's -- bureaucracy like walking through wet cement; you've got a 49 step process and four different agencies inside the Interior that have to do approvals. We need to streamline that some how because we need to have energy development on these Indian reservations as well.
Thanks for your work on it and your predecessor did some good work as well; we appreciate that.
SEC. SALAZAR: I agree.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: If I might, Mr. Secretary, you might want to take a look overall at the policies.
I think I told you about the whitetail deer in the Point Reyes National Seashore and there was helicopter shooting of these deer by the Park Service. They are not a native species; they are loved by the residents, they're beautiful deer.
So the Park Service decided they were going to shoot them all and they put out the helicopters and I heard immediately from the residents, who were very upset about it and it was a tussle; finally, the way it was resolved was that the helicopter shooting would stop and that birth control would take care of the remaining population.
Its really concerning; I mean, I think there ought to be a review of what these policies are because -- elk is good to eat too; why shouldn't the hunters be able to do some hunting on a regulated basis and take home the meat? This business of running helicopters over and shooting whitetail deer -- it's terrible.
SEN. DORGAN (?): If I might just yield on that point --
We generally have a no hunting provision in law with respect to national parks, but, that should not apply to a program by which the Park Service, or those that are running the parks, decide they've got to thin a herd. Why would they not then use qualified hunters?
But this nutty idea of going out and hiring a bunch of federal sharp shooters and helicopters; the sky's the limit apparently with the budgets of some of these agencies. All we need is -- just a good strong dose of common sense will fix these things.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: One last issue, if I might; that is the wild horse and burro program.
This is run by the BLM and it's proposed to increase from 41 million to 67 million; it's a 63 percent increase and the budget attributes a problem to a dramatic increase in holding costs resulting from a decline in the adoption market. It goes on to say that program costs -- and this is a quote -- "would continue to increase significantly in future years unless new and innovative management approaches are implemented."
So, these costs are rising steadily; there is an alternative and I'd like to hear your thoughts.
Madeline Pickens has come in and spoken with me proposing to create a horse sanctuary -- I believe she's actually looking at some land in Nevada -- whereby she would take many of the horses currently being held by the government and allow them to roam free; this is a 540,000 acre ranch in Nevada. In return, the government would give her $500 per head in an animal stipend.
Now, are you familiar with this proposal; have you had a chance to look at it?
SEC. SALAZAR: I am familiar, first, of the problem; secondly, I am familiar with Ms. Pickens' proposal.
I'm not prejudging what we will do there, but, it frankly strikes me that paying $500 a year per horse, you will soon, in many years pay $5,000 per horse; in 20 years, its $10,000; in 30 years, its $30,000.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: So, the problem is that $500 --
SEC. SALAZAR: -- and, I mean, frankly, I think we need a whole new strategy with respect to how we deal with this mushrooming problem on our public lands.
I can think of the needs that you have to balance out here; in Congress we have to balance out of the administration and frankly, having us coming before you today and say $41 million is not sufficient, we need $67 million in order to deal with the wild horse and burro problem, I think is a reflection of a failed strategy that we've had with respect to wild horses and burros.
I will, as soon as I have an Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals, and a BLM Director, put them on task to come up with a new strategic plan on how we deal with this issue.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Right.
I would appreciate your keeping me advised. As an old horse person, these wild horses have a real place in our country and I understand the growth, but there might some response in terms of a proposal from the government to her. I understand your per head cost; maybe it's a fixed fee over a period of the next five to ten years or something like that if she were to obtain the ranch and run it.
She'd have to provide the people and the feed, which is not inexpensive for so many horses.
SEC. SALAZAR: If I may, Senator Feinstein, the problem that we have with horses out on the wild range is, frankly, because of the cost of feed. What many people have done who are horse owners is basically turn these horses out onto the public lands.
What was once a horse owned in private ownership essentially becomes a charge of the federal government. I think there is an unfairness with respect to that.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: I agree.
SEC. SALAZAR: It is no different in fact, than what is happening in the Everglades where Senator Nelson has made a legitimate significant issue of the Burmese Python where people with pythons have essentially decided that they are going to turn their pythons out into the everglades.
Today, we have 150,000 -- it is estimated -- pythons that are taking over the Everglades. A non-native, invasive species and those are the kinds of problems that ends up becoming charges of the federal government, which then we have to deal with.
Those are the kinds of issues that I think require us to do some strategic thinking about how we're going to deal with them, and I will do that.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: I would appreciate it.
Thank you very much.
Do we have any other comments?
SEN. : (off mike)
We'll take some of the elk. We've been trying to get more into the Smokey's.
Second, we have some old boys in East Tennessee who they give night goggle vision too, they go out and shoot hogs at night, that's how we get rid of them and we'll loan them to you.
SEN. : We've got plenty of hunters in North Dakota that will find their mark.
Are looking for live elk or dead elk?
Well, then, you just send some trucks.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, we may have accomplished something this morning after all.
Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. It's good to have you aboard, its good to work with you and this committee looks to do right by you too.
Thank you very much.