Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., said he hopes to combat a “not in my backyard” mentality to support increased energy production and mining on federal lands after he takes the expected gavel of the House Natural Resources Committee in the new year.
Westerman said that under his leadership he does not want to be “boxed in” by focusing solely on the climate or the environment, but instead on “good stewardship” of federal resources.
“It’s a committee about good stewardship of our natural resources,” Westerman said on a call with reporters. “And the benefit of being good stewards is that we have a better climate, and we have a better environment.”
Since taking the top Republican spot on the committee from Rob Bishop of Utah at the beginning of last year, Westerman has leaned on his experience as a forester and said that forestry may be one area that could receive bipartisan support in the next Congress.
He introduced legislation with the aim of increasing carbon sequestration on public lands by planting trees and also supports a bill introduced by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., that would waive certain permitting regulations to help address biomass that fuels wildfires.
These and other proposals have drawn skepticism from environmental groups, who question whether Westerman and Republicans may weaken environmental regulations such as the National Environmental Policy Act. Westerman, however, said that on these and other permitting decisions he believes there is room for bipartisan agreement.
“We’re not talking about gutting environmental laws, we’re talking about making the environmental laws work so that we can actually protect the environment and we can have a strong and vibrant economy all at the same time,” said Westerman.
While Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., has suggested that his permitting overhaul may be voted on by the end of the year as part of a larger bill, Westerman said he does not support this move and instead hopes to revisit permitting in the new year under regular order.
In September, Westerman introduced a bill that includes a number of provisions which Republicans said would support domestic energy production, including preventing bans on federal energy leasing and mineral withdrawals and creating deadlines for environmental assessments.
Westerman added that he anticipates the committee will consider a bill that covers both domestic energy and mineral production and that they are drafting legislation with McCarthy’s office.
“The U.S. usage of fossil fuels is not going down, we’re just getting them from other countries that don’t produce them as environmentally friendly and with as good of human rights as what we have here in the United States and the same thing is true about mining and minerals,” said Westerman.
With Democrats set to control the Senate and President Joe Biden in the White House there is a limit on what the committee can do, although Westerman said stopping “bad policies” can sometimes be just as important as enacting legislation.
Westerman also has plans to conduct “rigorous” oversight of the Biden administration. Prior to the election, Westerman sent a series of letters to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the U.S. Forest Service and the Commerce Department, requesting further information on their rule-making. He also expressed concerns that their actions on a number of environmental regulations may violate the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of West Virginia v. EPA.