Providing for Congressional Disapproval of a Rule Submitted By the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Proctection Agencyby Senator Daniel Sullivan
Posted on 2015-11-03
SULLIVAN. Mr. President, I want to talk about what we have been
debating today on the Senate floor, the waters of the United States
rule, and legislation that has received bipartisan support so far. We
think it needs a lot more support on why this is so important for the
I was a cosponsor of Senator Barrasso's bill. Unfortunately, that bill didn't get the 60 votes necessary, but Senator Ernst has a resolution that I think is going to be very important to pass that would stop this rule from being enacted by the EPA. Hopefully, we will see if the President, once this is put on his desk, has the common sense to sign it rather than veto it.
I want to put this rule in a much broader context, to put the debate we are having on the waters of the United States rule into the broader context of actually what is happening in our country and how the EPA's waters of the United States rule is actually a symbol for much broader problems that I think the vast majority of Americans recognize.
The other night I went to a premiere of a short film on the Trans- Alaska Pipeline system, what we call in Alaska TAPS. It is Alaska's 800-mile artery of steel that was done in the most responsible manner, in terms of the environment, that brings much energy to our country. When it was built, it was actually one of the biggest private sector construction projects ever in the history of our great Nation, and literally directly and indirectly employed tens of thousands of Americans. It has carried almost 17 billion barrels of American oil to energy-thirsty American markets and continues to provide thousands and thousands of jobs, not only in Alaska but throughout the country. It is certainly a technological and environmental marvel. Here is the thing: That kind of huge project was built in 3 years.
Think about that, 800 miles of steel pipeline, crossing 3 mountain ranges, more than 30 major rivers and streams, and it took Americans 3 years to build it. Go to Alaska and it is functioning incredibly well today. We are reminded of how, when this Nation puts its mind to something, we can get great things done. In many ways, Congress played a critical role in making sure that incredible energy infrastructure system happened.
We are a great nation, but I must admit when I was watching this movie last week with a bunch of Alaskans--Senator Murkowski, Don Young, and others--I did feel a sense of unease, almost a little nostalgia, when we were watching this film about this great project that Americans came together from all over the country to build. We all know we used to do great things here and built great things. Let me give a few examples.
In Alaska is what is called the Alcan Highway, the Alaska-Canada Highway, through some of the world's most rugged terrain, 1,700 miles, built in under 1 year. We built the Empire State Building in 410 days. We built the Pentagon in 16 months, the Hoover Dam, the Interstate Highway System, putting a man on the Moon--I could go on and on and on. When we look at the history of this country, it is a history of getting big things done, and it is not just getting big things done. These projects were a symbol of American pride, of American greatness, and they also created tens of thousands of jobs--great jobs, middle-class jobs, which gave workers a sense that what they were doing was very important in their daily lives and very important to their country.
In Alaska still, when you talk to someone who worked on TAPS, who [[Page S7710]] constructed this--for the country--they talk about it in terms of pride, in terms of what they were doing for their State but also what they were doing for America and how everybody came together to build this.
Here is a sad fact: These kind of projects are not being built today. Instead, we have become a redtape Nation. Instead of symbols of technological wonder, national pride, and American ingenuity, we now hear story after story--and we have all heard them in the Senate--of delay and discord and disappointment, all of which symbolizes a country that can't get things done. The main culprit--the main culprit--is right here: Washington, DC, the ``Capital of Dysfunction.'' Whether it is the Keystone Pipeline, transmission lines in California or bridges or highways or runways across the country, killing crucial development in infrastructure projects through permitting and regulatory delay and Federal agency overreach with new rules upon new rules--and all they do is stop development--this certainly has been a hallmark of the Obama administration. The WOTUS rule--the EPA's waters of the United States rule--is just the latest manifestation of this. As we know, this is happening all over the country.
Frequently, because of the political risks, the President and members of his administration, like Gina McCarthy, will not openly oppose economic development projects. Instead, they will wrap them in redtape until they delay them to death. Let me give some examples.
In 2008, Shell acquired leases in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska for over $2 billion. That is a company going to the Federal Government. The Federal Government is saying: We want to lease this land to you. A company says: We will give you billions in return--the Federal Government; that money has already been spent, the billions--to develop natural resources. Of course, this was big news in Alaska. New production of oil would have filled up three-quarters of TAPS, which I talked about earlier. It would have created jobs, some estimates are in the tens of thousands of jobs, direct and indirect jobs, and provided much needed State and local revenue and energy security for our country.
So what happened? Remember, the Federal Government is inviting a private sector company to do this. It didn't take long for this project to run into a maddening array of often conflicting and confusing permitting challenges, drilling moratoriums, new regulations, environmental lawsuits, permitting confusions, that year after year kept the drill bit above the ground.
Now, jump to 2015. What had once been a very robust exploration program has resulted in what happened this summer: The permission, finally, to drill one exploration well off the coast of Alaska where hundreds of wells have already been drilled safely. We have been doing this safely in Alaska for decades.
Let me sum it up. It took 7 years, $7 billion, to get permission to drill one exploration well in 100 feet of water; 7 years, $7 billion, to finally get the Federal Government's permission to drill one single exploration well in 100 feet of water. No company in the world can endure that. This was a project that was meant to be delayed, delayed, delayed until it was killed.
Some of my colleagues have been celebrating this--celebrating this. I think that is sad because what they are really celebrating is the loss of very good jobs for Americans throughout the country. In many ways they are celebrating what is a symbol of America's decline.
These resources in the Arctic are going to be developed one way or the other, and it is either going to be by countries like us who have the highest, most responsible standards on the environment or countries like Russia and China who don't. So the Russians and Chinese are now going to be in charge. They are going to be producing the energy, they are going to be getting the jobs, and they are not going to care at all about the environment. So instead of a win-win-win for the United States, this is a lose-lose-lose. Yet we have Members of this body celebrating this. Again, this is not a problem confined to my State or energy programs in terms of the delay, delay, delay. Let me provide a few examples.
We had a recent Senate commerce committee hearing on aviation infrastructure. Everybody thinks aviation infrastructure is important. I certainly do. The manager of the Seattle airport was testifying. As part of his role as CEO of the American Association of Airport Executives, he talked about how it took almost 4 years to build the Seattle airport's new runway. It seems like a fair amount of time. Maybe a construction project like that takes a fair amount of time. I had a question for him, which I didn't know the answer to. I asked him: How long did it take to get the Federal permits, to go through the Federal permitting system to build this additional runway at the Seattle airport? His answer: 15 years--15 years to get the Federal permits to build a runway. You could have heard--well, you did hear the whole committee, the whole audience. They gasped. Then he said: They built the Great Pyramids of Egypt faster than that.
This is what is going on in our country, and this town is to blame. It is happening all over the country. Americans need to know this. It only took 9 years to permit a desalinization plan, which would provide much needed fresh water to drought-stricken California. Simply razing a bridge in New York--not building a new bridge, razing one--took 5 years and 20,000 pages of Federal permitting requirements.
The average time it now takes in America to get Federal approval for a major highway project is more than 6 years--again, not to build a highway but to get the Federal permission. It took almost 20 years, if you include the litigation, to get Federal permission to build a single gold mine in Alaska--20 years. We had to take that all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court because the Federal Government was not supporting us. Now the Kensington mine employs over 300 people at an average wage of $100,000 per person. Those are great jobs. We have a Federal Government that wants to delay, delay, delay.
Let's talk about the Keystone Pipeline. We had a debate here--7 years and counting to build a pipeline in terms of the Federal permits. Who is hurt by this? Our friends on the other side talk a lot about the companies and everything--TransCanada. The people who are hurt by this are American families, middle-class workers, union members.
One of the most surprising things I saw as a freshman this year when we were debating the override of the Keystone Pipeline--the State Department had predicted this would create as many as 30,000 jobs. These are good jobs--construction jobs, real jobs, real Americans working to build something important. I was presiding in the Chair like you, Mr. President, and some of the Members on the other side of the aisle started arguing that these aren't real jobs because they are temporary, that this isn't going to create 30,000 jobs because they are temporary jobs. I about fell out of my chair. Construction jobs aren't real jobs? Since when is that the case? According to the President's own Small Business Administration, the regulatory costs on small businesses in the United States are close to $2 trillion per year. That is $15,000 per family. The bottom line is, we know we can do better. We have to do better if we want to grow this country and create jobs.
I believe there is a silver lining. I believe things have gotten so bad that this delay is happening everywhere on projects that matter to us as a nation. Projects that are so weighted down under redtape are making Americans, regardless of party, start to take note. I have seen a silver lining here. Both Democrats and Republicans are starting to demand change. They are demanding bold and serious regulatory reform.
I have had conversations with Members of both sides of the aisle here about how important this is for our economy, how important it is for jobs. That is why this debate today on the waters of the United States is so important.
Unfortunately, we didn't get the number of bills. We did have a pretty strong bipartisan group. I think we would have gotten to 59--1 vote short to move forward. It is unfortunate that the other side couldn't see the merits of this. But this rule will not help grow our economy. This rule will continue to stifle growth. This rule will certainly continue to kill jobs. It takes [[Page S7711]] what we all want--certainly, the whole idea of protecting our water, clean water. In my State of Alaska we have the cleanest water of any State in the country. We win awards every year for our clean, pristine water. It is not because the EPA is making that happen; it is because Alaskans are making that happen. But it takes the Clean Water Act and somehow, through a rule that the EPA itself has devised, it gives the EPA the power to regulate not major rivers but water in our backyards, literally.
Almost certainly this rule doesn't comport with Federal law. We have now had two courts say that. There is a stay on it nationally. The Sixth Circuit has put a stay on this rule. Over 30 States have sued to stop this rule--a bipartisan coalition of States--because it is almost certainly not legal.
I asked Administrator McCarthy about the legal opinion, the legal basis they had for this rule. I have never gotten an answer from the EPA Administrator. I am not sure they even care. In the last two Supreme Court terms, the EPA has lost two big cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. They have lost the Sixth Circuit case for now. Unfortunately, we had the Administrator of the EPA on TV a few months ago, on the eve of this Supreme Court case--EPA vs. Michigan. When asked if she was going to win the case, she said: We think we are going to win, but ultimately it doesn't really matter because the companies have already had to comply with hundreds of millions of dollars. Think about that. Think about what she said.
This rule is going to have a huge, profound impact on my State. Alaska has more waters under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act than any other State in the country. Over 50 percent of America's wetlands are located in Alaska.
I held multiple field hearings as a chairman of the subcommittee on fisheries, water, and wildlife on the waters of the United States rule. It is clear to me that Alaskans of vastly different backgrounds, ideologies, and different parts of the State are opposed to this rule. One group in my State said the rule would ``straitjacket any development.'' Another said that it would have negative impacts on ``virtually any economic development project'' in Alaska.
One project we are very focused on in Alaska--we are having a special session right now in our State legislature--is the Alaska LNG Project, a very large-scale LNG project that, like TAPS, will be great for the country and create thousands of jobs and energy security for Americans and our allies. This rule, if left in its present form, will very negatively impact the cost and timeline of that project.
Simply put, the waters of the United States is one of the largest land grabs in history, and it is an example of the kind of challenges we need to address here to get our economy moving again, to create good jobs for Americans. It is why this debate we are having is so important.
These are problems we can fix. We know we can fix them. Americans sent us here to fix these problems, and we need to start by stopping rules like the waters of the United States that undermine our country's future and the jobs that we need throughout this country.