Statement on Water and Power Legislation, House Natural Resources Committee
September 10, 2009. Thank you Mr. Chairman. First of all, I want to say what a delight it has been to work with Chairwoman Napolitano, who has given all of these bills a fair, balanced and complete hearing.
We have six Water and Power subcommittee bills before us today. They are bi-partisan and well intentioned and seek to stretch scarce water supplies throughout the Southwest. But I do have some serious concerns that need to be addressed in the near future.
A generation ago, the principal objective of our water and power policy was to create an abundance of both. It was an era when vast reservoirs and hydro-electric facilities produced a cornucopia of clean and plentiful water and electricity on a scale so vast that many communities didn’t even bother to meter.
But the last generation seems to have abandoned this objective, and to replace it with a very different philosophy that now dominates public policy: that the government’s principal focus is not to produce abundant water and power, but rather to ration shortages that government has caused by abandoning abundance as its primary objective.
The result is increasingly expensive water and power that is now affecting our prosperity as a nation. We’re no longer looking at cost-benefit analyses of which projects make economic sense and which do not. Instead, practicality has been replaced by an entirely new ideological filter: those projects that ration or manage shortages are considered worthy regardless of their feasibility or cost – and projects that produce abundance are to be discouraged regardless of their economic benefits or simple common sense.
Which brings me to the fine point of the matter. Four of these bills deal with water recycling – trying to stretch dwindling supplies rather than create new ones. The administration opposed these bills and was honest and candid in pointing out that we have already authorized 53 such projects without the funds to finance them, producing a $624 million backlog. The bills before us today add another four projects to the waiting list and another $110 million to the backlog. And yet still there’s no process for prioritizing.
My biggest concern is that these four recycling bills will cost from a low of $980 per acre foot to a high of $5,400 per acre foot and this is simply not fiscally rational or fiscally sustainable.
I don’t believe it is fair to oppose these bills today since there hasn’t been a standardized framework with which to judge them. These bills have been in the process for some time and there aren’t any similar bills behind them.
But I do want to ask that after this batch of projects is added to a growing backlog of unfunded and fiscally questionable recycling projects that we establish a rational standard for cost-benefit analysis for all future measures. I believe it can be as simple as requiring the Bureau of Reclamation to certify that the project is the least expensive alternative before federal funds may be released.
Since we are approving these bills on a bi-partisan basis today I would hope that we can work together in a bi-partisan manner to assure that we’re not mandating cost-prohibitive water recycling programs just because we like the general idea with no concern about the actual cost.
Finally, we have two non-related bills introduced by Mr. Matheson of Utah which I whole-heartedly support. One, HR 2008 clears the way for a 50 megawatt hydropower project. The other, HR 2950 allows the Uintah Water District to prepay its obligations to the federal treasury. This is in the interest of the District that can be relieved of interest costs and regulatory burdens. It is also in the interest of the nation, at a time when it is running a catastrophic deficit.
My only concern is this should take an act of Congress. I would hope that the law can be broadened to allow any district in similar circumstances to prepay federal loans or other obligations without having to beg Congress for special approval to do so.