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Open Spaces

Lummis Preparing To Take On The EPA

Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons


Republicans in the U.S. House have created a new position charged with overseeing the Interior of the United States, which includes the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis is being tapped to head up the new investigative subcommittee. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is famous for dragging in Major League Baseball players during the steroid scandal.

They’ve also repeatedly subpoenaed Attorney General Eric Holder over the gun running program Fast and Furious, and they’ve faced off with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the Benghazi terrorist attack. While Lummis may not garner the same headlines, she now gets to lead investigations into the policies of the Interior Department.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to work on issues on the Oversight Committee that I very much care about,” she says. “The Endangered Species Act, the regulations on coal-fired power plants and other hydrocarbon power plants. I want to understand more about how they came to be and about how they’re affecting or will affect the American people, especially the poor people.”

We want to do it in a way that will produce positive consequences, where we can find ways to improve legislation and thereby improve the stewardship of natural resources and at the same time alleviate the overreach of federal agencies.

Lummis says many of those issues are pivotal in Wyoming and other western states. She also sits on the Natural Resources Committee. Think of her Oversight role as a policewoman on the beat, and her role on Natural Resources as the city councilwoman writing the laws governing the police beat. So in this case she’s the rule maker and the enforcer, which she says is a win-win.

“So the fact that this portfolio of chairing the Western Caucus, still serving on the Natural Resources Committee and then chairing the Subcommittee on Oversight and Government Reform that deals with these same agencies allows me to consolidate my area of concentration while I’m here in Congress to areas that are dealt with by the Department of the Interior, the Forest Service and the EPA and, to a lesser extent, the Department of Energy.”

The Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, Rob Bishop of Utah, welcomes Lummis’ new role.

“She does a great job,” he says. “I think her background not only in state government but also in legislature in Wyoming combined with her private sector involvements -- she’s perfect. It’s a good voice for the West.”

Lummis may have a thorn in her side though. Michigan Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence is serving as the top Democrat on Lummis’ interior Subcommittee. She says her role is partly to combat Republican’s repeated efforts to undercut climate change initiatives.

“They’ve been very extreme and you have to understand the agenda,” Lawrence says. “The agenda of the environment and not embracing that we do have climate issues in America. And so sometimes that agenda transcends to all areas of and the EPA is one.”

Lawrence is promising to be respectful, but she says that doesn’t mean she’ll be quiet.

“So I just hope this Congress does not waste time, that we actually deal with real issues. That’s one thing I’m going to try and push the agenda and the conversation. Why are we spending time on this? Is this really part of oversight? Is it really something that we’ve already addressed so why do we keep rehashing it.”

Lummis says she’s less interested in scoring partisan political points than with producing legislation that can garner President Obama’s signature.

“We want to do it in a way that will produce positive consequences, where we can find ways to improve legislation and thereby improve the stewardship of natural resources and at the same time alleviate the overreach of federal agencies.”

Lummis will now be wielding a gavel and will get more resources in order to carry out investigations, but she says that’s less important than policy.

“I am less interested in the trappings of chairing a subcommittee than I am in the substance,” she says. “And when – but we’re going to start rolling out the substance early.”

Lummis says other areas of concern are the maintenance backlog at national parks and what she sees as a bloated federal workforce. Now that she’s got a gavel, expect to hear more from her about the western issues she says many in the nation’s capital don’t understand.

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