Hastings Sees Hope
by Dan Wheat
Newly retired after 20 years in Congress, former House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings,
thinks Endangered Species Act reform and energy development bills will pass the new Senate.
PASCO, Wash. -- As chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee for the past four years, Doc Hastings shepherded bills on Endangered Species Act reform and energy development through the Republican-controlled House only to see them die in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
It was frustrating, he said, but he doesn't view his work as being in vain. Instead, he believes it set the stage for the likely passage of similar measures this session. Republicans now control the Senate and the House.
If President Barack Obama vetoes them, it will highlight the differences between the parties for voters in the 2016 elections, he said.
"With our technology and resources, we have the potential to be the largest producer of natural gas and oil in the world. Why wouldn't we do that? The American people instinctively understand that," said Hastings, who just retired after representing central Washington state in Congress for 20 years.
His bills would have increased offshore drilling and streamlined the process for drilling on public lands onshore. The current reduction in gas prices is largely because of increased drilling on private and state lands in west Texas and North Dakota, he said. More oil could be accessed on public lands.
Already Congress is moving to pass the Keystone XL pipeline and with a court ruling in Nebraska in its favor, a key point of opposition has been removed, Hastings said.
"It has bipartisan support in both houses so this is the opportunity for the president to join in the discussions," he said.
Obama is threatening a veto.
Several years ago a "mega settlement" between the U.S. Department of Interior and environmental groups led to the potential listing of 750-plus species as threatened or endangered across the country, Hastings said.
From a mussel in Arkansas to a bat in Pennsylvania, it affected parts of the country never before impacted by the ESA, increasing concern in Congress.
Hastings' Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act would have made public the data used by federal agencies in determining ESA listings.
"It boils down to transparency," Hastings said. "This was to be the presidency that was going to be the most transparent in history and it hasn't been."
The issue is critical for agriculture, especially in regard to fish, because that involves water and "water fuels agriculture," he said.
"I know there is strong interest in the Senate on this issue," he said. "We talked about ESA (for four years) and I don't think there is any question the momentum we created will have a positive impact in the Senate this session. I think that's true with energy policy also."
Hastings said he was among those educating House colleagues on the need for immigration reform to include a better guestworker program for labor-intensive agriculture, such as the tree fruit industry in his district.
"There's broad agreement in the House and Senate that the issue needs to be addressed. That wasn't necessarily the case in (immigration reform efforts) 2005 and 2006," he said.
President George W. Bush was aggressive on immigration reform and Obama could have built on that momentum and passed something in this first two years when Democrats controlled the presidency and Congress, he said.
"But there wasn't a peep, not even a peep of immigration legislation. It didn't become an issue until after they lost the House in 2010. There had to be political motivation behind that," he said.
There's a chance Congress will pass immigration reform, but the question is whether the president will engage in give-and-take, he said. The president's executive order granting legal status to some people was an overreach of executive authority, he said.
While radical Islamic terrorism is a threat to the United States, so is the national debt, Hastings said. The House repeatedly passed bills to reduce entitlement spending by giving people greater choices in health care and retirement, he said. That needs to happen, he said, noting that President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and a Republican Congress balanced the federal budget for four years, creating surpluses and reducing the national deficit.
That was reversed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan after the 911 attacks but the peak of annual deficits under Bush was half to a third what they have reached under Obama, he said.
Hastings faults the president for being unwilling to compromise or even engage in meaningful talks with Congress on many issues. "The most disappointing thing in my political life was 2012 when he was re-elected," he said.
Hastings won't say if he has a favorite for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, but says it should be someone with executive experience, a governor.
He has an admonition for farmers.
People directly involved in agriculture don't have the political clout they did 100 years ago because now they make up only 3 percent of the population.
"That's why I encourage them to get involved in commodity groups and the Farm Bureau," he said. "They need to continue to speak as loudly as they can."
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