Meet the Next Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee

With Republicans claiming the majority in the House, it’s fair to say that the committees with oversight of key energy and environmental issues will be quite different in the 112th Congress. The new chair of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee is still up in the air, but it looks all but certain that Doc Hastings (R-Wa.) will assume the chairmanship of the Natural Resources Committee.

Hastings, a former paper company executive, is the currently the senior GOP member of a subcommittee that oversees federal land and water issues;  it also has a big say when it comes to issues including oil and gas drilling, mining safety, endangered species, forests, and fisheries. Within hours of the GOP victory, he sent out his list of priorities as chair of the panel. The top goal: “cutting spending and bringing fiscal sanity back to Washington, D.C.”

As for goals on the subjects that he would have jurisdiction over, Hastings pledged to push for the oft-repeated Republican catch phrase, “an all-of-the-above energy plan.” Translation: more oil drilling, mining, etc. Here’s what he outlines:

Creating new jobs and giving a much needed boost to the economy will also be at the forefront of our agenda. Through the responsible stewardship of our natural resources we can put Americans to work, strengthen our economy and protect the environment. This includes increasing domestic energy production through an all-of-the-above energy plan and ensuring that public lands are actually open to the public. The livelihoods of rural communities, especially in the West, are dependent on the smart use of our public lands, water, timber, minerals and energy resources.

Hastings also pledged to “provide much needed oversight of the Obama Administration’s policies that have largely gone unchecked for nearly two years” and “hold the Administration accountable.” He specifically targeted the temporary moratorium on new offshore drilling imposed after the BP spill in the Gulf (which was dropped last month), arguing that there is still a “de facto drilling moratorium” due to the implementation of new regulations and standards. He accused the administration of having “plans to lock up vast portions of our oceans through an irrational zoning process.”

Hastings has received plenty of financial support from energy and natural resource interests like the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the timber giant Weyerhaeuser Co. over the years, as the Center for Public Integrity details here.

“He’s not a friend of our public lands, and when it comes to oil and gas he wants to take us exactly in the wrong direction,” said Athan Manuel, director of the public lands program at Sierra Club. “From what we can tell he hasn’t learned a thing from the Deepwater Horizon spill. He seems to want to charge ahead and lease as many areas as possible, even though we’ve seen that the oil companies can’t be trusted with our coastal ecosystems.”

Manuel noted that Hastings even blocked an effort to protect wilderness areas in Washington State offered by his Republican colleague, Dave Reichert. “If that’s how he treats his fellow Washington State Republican, I’m not optimistic,” said Manuel.

Offshore drilling is the most relevant issue that the committee could weigh in on in the near future. Under current chair Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the panel passed a strong spill-response package in July. But the Senate didn’t pass its companion bill, leaving major uncertainty as to whether Congress will do anything in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The Senate could still move the bill in lame duck, but it’s doubtful that any new regulations are going to come in this committee under Hasting’s watch next year.