Interior job goes to Wyomingite
October 28, 2005
By Dustin Bleizeffer
One of Wyoming's own has accepted a temporary appointment to a key energy post at the U.S. Department of Interior.
Johnnie [Rejane, or R.M.] Burton [[email protected] 202-208-3500] will be acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management while the White House searches for a permanent replacement for Rebecca Watson, whose resignation is effective today.
The appointment means Burton will serve double-duty because she will maintain her current position as director of the Minerals Management Service.
"I am really very honored that they asked me to do that, even if it is a temporary job," she said Thursday.
Burton, 65, said she would consider accepting the permanent position if it was offered. But for now, she's got her hands full.
The Minerals Management Service is swamped with work from this year's series of hurricanes and the massive disruptions they caused to off-shore oil and gas production in the Gulf.
In addition to that workload, Burton takes full responsibilities as acting assistant secretary, a job that will include actions on the Interior Department's proposed energy corridor plan and the call to increase the Bureau of Land Management's permitting of oil and gas development across the West.
"As acting secretary, I have all the authority and all the duties and all the responsibility of being assistant secretary," Burton said. "Anything the BLM is doing, I'm responsible for supervising."
Burton said she has been too busy to return to Wyoming as often as she'd like. The last time she was at her home in Jackson was for the Fourth of July. Then she made a quick 24-hour trip to Wyoming in September for a funeral.
She said keeping busy helps her overcome her homesickness.
"When you have a job that demands 14-hour days in the office, there's not that much time to worry about where you are," Burton said.
Burton served as director of the Wyoming Department of Revenue and on the governor's Cabinet from 1995 to 2002. She was a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives from 1982 to 1988. She also held a leadership role in various energy exploration and service companies.
"She'll oversee all of our nation's off-shore and on-shore energy resources. I can't think of a better person for Wyoming," said Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo.
Thomas serves on the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which recommended Burton to the temporary post.
"I was proud to recommend Johnnie for this important leadership role at Interior," Thomas said. "She will be a tremendous asset in a crucial position. I can't think of a more important post with dramatic impact over Wyoming's resources than the assistant secretary position."
Watson plans to join the Denver law firm of Hogan and Hartson LLP. Before joining the Interior Department, Watson was a partner of the Gough, Shanahan, Johnson & Waterman law firm in Helena, Montana.
Copyright 2005, Casper Star-Tribune.
Additional researched, recommended reading:
Natural gas, ag and environmental regs
October 25, 2004
By Andy Patrick
AgInfo.net "Your link to complete Northwest Ag Information!"
(Note: No contact information for Allan Media could be located at the AgInfo.com website.)
There has been a lot of concern about the increasing prices of fuels lately, especially in the realm of natural gas. While many a farmer uses natural gas to heat their homes and operations, most use fertilizers made from natural gas. But lately the focus by many in agriculture has not so much been on the prices, but on how to increase the nationís natural gas supply, with the by-product being a lowering of prices. That has been the focus of regional meetings on the subject, including one recently in Tennessee featuring one of that stateís U.S. Senators, Lamar Alexander, who chairs a Senate Energy Subcommittee.
ALEXANDER: Our whole purpose was to put a focus on the importance of new supplies of natural gas. I'm very much for strong environmental controls. I'm all for more conservation. But thatís not enough. And unless we drill for more gas, unless we have more liquefied natural gas come in, we're going to have this crisis in the price and itís going to be felt by every farm family in America.
Did you hear Alexanderís comments about environmental controls? Yes, the same dilemma that faces our nation in debating whether to drill for more domestic based oil in places like Alaska also comes into play. That dilemma is burdensome environmental regulations. Hereís an example as presented by Johnnie Burton, Director of the Interior Departmentís Mineral Management Service. There may be as much as a thousand-trillion cubic feet of natural gas that could be recovered from U.S. public lands. Thatís more than enough to meet the annual U.S. natural gas demand of some twenty-four trillion cubic feet for years to come. And Burton adds there are now many environmentally friendly ways to access natural gas. But still regulatory and environmental stumbling blocks remain.
BURTON: We have let so many environmental laws come into play that now we are fully strangled. It seems like everything we do takes years, and part of it is that we are being very careful with the environment, and we should be. I think we've taken too long to get things done.
Meaning all the years to get necessary permits to lay pipelines and drill are either doubled because of lawsuits, or then just plain halted if projects are ordered to stop in a court of law by an environmentalistís lawsuit. And what Alexander and others fear is that if either natural gas exploration of less environmentally sensitive areas is not conducted, or companies are allowed to drill more rapidly for natural gas, then more jobs in the natural gas and fertilizer industries will go overseas and more farms will shut down as a result.
Gough, Shanahan, Johnson & Waterman Law Firm
Hogan and Hartson L.L.P.
Denver, Colorado (offices worldwide, including Mexico and China; see home page for map)
STATEMENT OF JOHNNIE BURTON
DIRECTOR, MINERALS MANAGEMENT SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES, SUBCOMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND MINERAL RESOURCES, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
HEARING ON H.R. 793, ALTERNATIVE ENERGY-RELATED USES ON THE OUTER CONTINENTAL SHELF AND H.R. 794, THE COAL LEASING AMENDMENTS ACT OF 2003
March 6, 2003
Madam Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee today to discuss two energy Bills before the Committee: H.R. 793, a Bill to facilitate alternative energy -related uses on the Outer Continental Shelf; and H.R. 794, the Coal Leasing Amendments Act of 2003.
H.R. 793, OCS Alternative Energy and Energy Related Activities
The Presidentís National Energy Policy report laid out a comprehensive, long-term energy strategy for securing Americaís energy future. While many critics focus on the reportís call for the production of energy from traditional sources, there are critical components of the Presidentís policy that call for production of energy from alternative sources, such as renewable energy projects.
In support of the Presidentís energy policy initiative to simplify permitting for energy production in an environmentally sensitive manner, the Administration developed a legislative proposal last year to facilitate the permitting and development of alternative energy-related projects in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The Administrationís legislation was submitted to Congress in June 2002, and was introduced as H.R. 5156 by Chairman Cubin on July 18, 2002. The Administration expressed its strong support for the Bill at a hearing before this Subcommittee on July 25, 2002 and continues to strongly support enactment of this legislation.
Highlights of H.R. 793
H.R. 793 would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) to set up a comprehensive framework for permitting alternative energy-related uses on the OCS not already expressly covered by existing statutes. Placing this authority under the OCSLA, which already provides the statutory framework for oil, gas, and other mineral activities, will allow the Department to build on many of the provisions already embodied in that Act, including: the authority to coordinate with and enter into agreements with other federal agencies; requirements for occupational safety for activities; authority for site access to facilities; and the authority for imposing civil and criminal penalties. Using the OCSLA as the umbrella statutory authority will allow us the flexibility to tailor the Actís relevant provisions to innovative alternative energy-related activities.
Specifically, the proposed legislation would grant the Secretary of the Interior the authority toó
There are several benefits associated with enacting H.R. 793. First, it will clarify the regulatory process considerably. The private sector will know where to start the permitting process, and the Department will be able to inform other relevant Federal agencies of the proposal, thus better facilitating its timely review and consideration. Second, the legislation will explicitly provide the Department with the tools to comprehensively address in one statute the array of issues associated with permitting and overseeing alternative energy-related uses on the OCS.
As the Administration began to actively consider the best approach for addressing issues associated with siting alternative energy-related activities on the OCS, it became clear early in the process that the Department of the Interior should be given the lead role in the permitting of such activities. While there are numerous federal agencies with permitting responsibilities on the OCS, the Department is the primary agency in the federal government to oversee development of our Nationís federal energy resources. The Department manages more than 500 million surface acres of land. The Minerals Management Service (MMS) managing approximately 1.76 billion acres of offshore Federal lands for oil, gas and other mineral activities and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages 262 million surface acres and more than 700 million subsurface acres of federal mineral estate. Since the proposed legislation pertains to the permitting and oversight of energy uses on offshore Federal lands, it is only logical that any new legislative authority that is enacted remain with the Department already entrusted with that overall responsibility.
In this role, the Department has demonstrated unparalleled experience in multiple-use land management and routinely makes decisions to balance economic activities with the need to protect the environment. For this reason, the proposed legislation fits well with the Departmentís core missions.
Within the Department, MMS has many years of experience in overseeing oil, gas, and sand activities on offshore federal lands. This experience covers many areas such as:
Highlights of Comments Received on the Administrationís Legislative Proposal
Since we submitted our original legislative proposal to Congress in June 2002, we have received numerous comments from a variety of interested parties on the proposal. In general, comments and concerns can be grouped into several overarching themes. The first set of comments involve the issue of proper site planning. Many commenters expressed concerns that there needed to be a mechanism in place to view alternative energy sites from the standpoint of all projects that may be appropriate for an area as well as what sites will be best for all affected partiesóas opposed to reviewing one project and one site at a time without concern for cumulative impacts or other considerations.
Commenters also expressed concerns about the need for active and meaningful participation from the public -- particularly participation from State and local governments. This participation included the review of any proposed activities under the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) to ensure that a potential activity is consistent with a Stateís CZMA program.
Finally, commenters expressed concerns that whatever statutory process was put in place must provide for a rigorous environmental review and appropriate environmental safeguards.
We agree that these are important concerns and we are amenable to working closely with the Committee and others to ensure that the concerns mentioned above are addressed in an appropriate manner.
H.R. 793 will provide for the sound management of offshore public lands by ensuring that principles of safety, environmental protection, multiple use, fair compensation, and conservation of resources are all addressed before a project is initiated. It will also provide the private sector, which has expressed a desire to invest in offshore energy-related projections, certainty and predictability. Finally, H.R. 793 has the potential to help increase and balance both our sources and supplies of energy that will be so critical to our Nation in the future. We strongly believe that we must encourage new and innovative technologies to help us meet our increasing energy needs -- enactment of this legislation will be one important step in helping us meet those needs.
I would again like to thank the Committee for its interest in this issue and express our sincere desire to work with you on all aspects of this important legislation.
H.R. 794, the Coal Leasing Amendments Act of 2003
H.R. 794 would amend portions of the Mineral Leasing Act relating to the development of federal coal resources.
Coal produced from the federal lands contributes about 40% of the national coal supply. Production from federal lands continues to increase. In Fiscal Year 2002, production from federal lands exceeded 400 million tons. The BLMís management and development of these federal coal resources are governed by the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA) as amended by the Federal Coal Leasing Amendments Act and implementing regulations found at 43 CFR 3400.
The Department recognizes that the Federal Coal Leasing program would benefit from select modifications to provisions of the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA), as amended by the Federal Coal Leasing Amendments Act of 1976 (FCLAA).. The Presidentís National Energy Policy directed the BLM to analyze the effectiveness of the MLA as it relates to coal leasing on federal lands and to recommend any needed administrative or legislative changes. Accordingly, a working group established to accomplish this task should be releasing a draft report soon. In reviewing your legislation Madam Chairman, we see several changes that are useful and important.
The Department supports repeal of the current 160-acre limitation for lease modifications as provided in section 2 of the bill. We believe the current limitation has unintentionally caused the bypass of some otherwise recoverable coal reserves. The amendments in section 2 do not affect the requirements of section 3 of the MLA that lands added to a lease be contiguous to the existing leasehold and that the Secretary find the lease modification is ďin the interest of the United States.Ē
We also agree with the provision in the bill allowing the Secretary to extend the life of a mine beyond 40 years if the Secretary determines a longer time period will ensure the maximum economic recovery of a coal deposit or is in the interest of the orderly, efficient, or economic development of the coal resources. The current legislative limit requires that a mine operator submit a plan that shows all reserves being mined out within 40 years. In some cases, this does not reflect actual mining practice, particularly where incremental parcels are being added to established logical mining units. There may also be cases where the size of a reserve in an original logical mining unit is large enough to require more than 40 years to develop it.
The Department supports legislative changes to the advanced royalty provisions. Under current law, the Secretary may suspend the condition that a lessee continually operate upon payment of advance royalties. In granting a suspension, the Secretary must find that the public interest must be served thereby. However, the aggregate number of years during the period of the lease for which advanced royalties may be accepted can not exceed ten. H.R. 794 would extend that to 20 years. Under this provision, an operator would not have to relinquish a lease if unfavorable market conditions make resumption of coal production uneconomic.
Section 5 of the bill eliminates the requirement that a lessee submit a mine plan within 3 years of lease issuance. We support the elimination of this provision as most mine plans submitted to meet this requirement do not reflect the actual mine plan submitted under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) and, therefore, are a wasted effort for both lessee and the BLM. The ultimate mining plan is reflected in the application for a permit submitted under SMCRA.
Section 6 addresses the issue of surety bonds and deferred bonus bids. The Department is concerned about the current bond availability dilemmas facing lessees, and this issue has been a subject for review by the Departmentís Bonding Task Force. However, we are not certain at this time that a broad prohibition on the use of surety bonds is the most appropriate solution. We would be happy to discuss the findings of the Task Force when their review is complete.
In addition, the bill removes the direct prohibition on the Secretary waiving advance royalties. We have no objection to that provision. Section 3 of the MLA provides the Secretary may only grant a waiver or suspension of royalties if it is in the interest of conservation and for the purpose of achieving the greatest ultimate recovery of the coal.
Finally, we support the objective of a federal coal resource inventory and impediment assessment. We do point out though that funding for such an inventory should be subject to review during development of the Presidentís budget.
We appreciate the opportunity to testify on these changes to federal coal legislation and look forward to working with you and your staff on these and other changes to the MLA that will ensure that federal coal resources are efficiently developed for the continued benefit of the public. If H.R. 794 is enacted, the Department will develop guidelines for carrying out the determinations required under the MLA related to the provisions mentioned above that recognize the importance of the competitive leasing process, a fair return to the taxpayer, and the efficient and orderly development of coal resources.
This concludes my written testimony. However, I would be pleased to respond to any questions from Members of the Subcommittee.