New Watchdog to Sink Teeth into EPA regs, public lands issues

The GOP chairwoman of a new House watchdog subpanel will use her perch to target the Obama administration's climate, air pollution and public lands policies.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) was recently handed control of a new Interior Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee that is charged with oversight of U.S. EPA, the Interior Department, the Energy Department and the Agriculture Department.

Among her top priorities: scrutinizing some of the administration's most controversial energy and environmental policies.

"There are a couple things that are of particular interest -- proposed rules that the EPA has proposed on power plants and ozone are things we want to look at," Lummis told E&E Daily yesterday in an interview. "We want to better understand the scope of the rules and their impacts."

Also on her radar, she said, will be executive actions, including National Environmental Policy Act reviews, the Endangered Species Act and Forest Service regulations. "It is pretty significant, the sweeping impacts that it has, particularly on Western states -- but under the Endangered Species Act -- even more now on Eastern states, as well."

Watchdogs could also continue ongoing investigations into management at the Chemical Safety Board, which came under fire from lawmakers on the committee during the last Congress.

"It wouldn't surprise me if in the area of the Chemical Safety Board, there were further deliberations and perhaps more focus on how do we reform the Chemical Safety Board," Lummis said.

Oversight Committee lawmakers last summer berated CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso after agency management was accused of retaliating against whistleblowers, stonewalling an inspector general probe and creating a "toxic work environment." Then-Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called for Moure-Eraso to resign (Greenwire, June 19, 2014).

Lummis noted that the subcommittee hasn't yet had an organizational meeting and has yet to lay out its plans for the year. It's possible that the subcommittee could hold its first hearing early next month, she said.

When it comes to her legislative priorities, Lummis said she's hoping to address issues like the backlog in maintenance at the National Parks and why "even the Park Service itself might want to direct funds to acquire more land rather than address the backlog."

She added, "We just want to understand the focus and priorities of agencies when they come to Congress and express concerns repeatedly about the lack of maintenance of what they already have, and yet funds seem to be directed toward acquiring more, rather than be a good steward of what we already have."

The Wyoming Republican said she's more concerned about broad policy issues and systemic management problems than in zeroing in on isolated cases of employee misconduct.

"Personally, I'm more interested in overarching issues, like rules that affect costs of electricity for the poor and for middle-class Americans, that affect our ability to become energy independent," she said.

As for cases of worker misconduct, she said, "If it's isolated instances of employee misbehavior, I personally am less concerned about that than I am about systemic practices."

EPA officials came under fire by lawmakers on the Oversight Committee last year when cases of employee misbehavior ranging from a staffer who watched hours of pornography on the job each day to other workers who were paid for years without doing any work (Greenwire, May 7, 2014).

Lummis said she's also supportive of efforts to scale back the size of the federal workforce.

"I drafted the original bill that would have required for every two employees that leave the federal government that one be hired to replace that person as a way to downsize the federal government through attrition, as opposed to terminations or reductions in force," she said. "So I continue to believe that that's a good idea and responsible policy."

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