Support for Arkansas Week provided by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, The Arkansas Times and KUARFM 89.
And hello again, everyone, and thanks very much for joining us with the Huckabee Sanders administration's education package, enacted if not yet funded.
It's on to other items in the agenda budget, yeah.
And any tax cuts that may be included therein.
But a reordering of the state's criminal justice system is pending as well.
A key legislator in that arena will join us in a moment with an update on that first energy legislation in the nation's capital, a sweeping blend of bills that advocates say would increase US energy independence and lower consumer prices.
Skeptics contend it would increase the profits of energy companies, primarily fossil fuel providers.
And risk environmental damage, as well as impede efforts to combat climate change.
From his home in Hot Springs.
The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and a key driver of the bill, Congressman Bruce Westerman of Arkansas 4th district.
Congressman, thanks very much for being with us.
You had a little power.
Well you had a little power failure there in Hot Springs last night, so you lost Internet.
So anyway we if, if we we hope we can maintain the connection anyway through the the length of the interview.
But anyway thanks again for joining us.
You you have said about this legislation, Sir, that we it, it's designed to put or to take energy out-of-the-box.
How is energy in a box?
That's a great question.
And what we're seeing is we're not utilizing the full energy potential that we have here in the US and a lot of this because of the regulatory process and the attack on our traditional fossil fuel energies are the carbon emitting energies.
And it's also you could say that about nuclear energy.
We're not releasing the full potential of our nuclear energy.
America is blessed with energy resources.
There's no reason we should be dependent on any other country for energy or minerals.
And this HR one bill that will be moving through the House very soon looks at unleashing our energy and our mining potential.
Because when you look at a new energy future with all of the electrification, it's going to take an inordinate amount of minerals and elements to meet those demands.
Right now we would have to buy most of that from China and actually we are buying most of those goods.
From China today.
So we should be developing those resources here at home and HR one, the lower Energy Cost Act is designed to utilize American resources to create American jobs, to create American energy independence, and to improve our national security.
So there's a lot of winds that would come from doing this legislation well in in terms though of of at least the fossil fuel production, one key section of the bill or a big part of the bill would appear to be to.
Shorten the permitting process, which environmentalists say is, is not necessarily a very good thing at all.
So you're your thoughts.
Well, ironically, that's probably the area we've got the most bipartisan support.
I've worked with Senator Manchin, Senator Sinema, numerous members in the House on this particular section of the bill, because what the Democrats have found is all the money they put in the Inflation Reduction Act to do green energy project, those projects aren't getting built either because of the onerous regulations.
And we're not trying to gut any kind of regulatory process to protect the environment.
We want to streamline it.
Green line it where it actually worked.
We want to get these projects permitted and get them built so that we can produce the energy of the future.
And you know, there's environmental groups that are going to push back on, on anything you do because they don't want any kind of development.
But I think the more rational people are looking at this and saying, you know, we can't get, we can't build things in this country anymore.
And it goes beyond energy when you look at Rd.
projects, when you look at navigable waterways or.
Airports, all those things that we try to build.
Anything that has a federal Nexus to it is being delayed through the NEPA permitting process and this is really an effort to streamline NEPA to get our reasonable dates put in place saying that you only have so much time to do the permit.
Even in the Obama administration, they said these permits should only be a couple 100 pages long at the most, and now we're seeing permits 3 and four times longer than that.
So it's just everything's getting bogged down in the process, nothing's getting built.
And at the end of the day, that hurts the American consumer and Hurts America's position on the world stage.
The concerns of the environmentalists or are they totally without merit?
I believe so because they're not looking at what the legislation's doing.
We're saying we're going to go through the process.
We're just going to do it in a timely order.
There's a a sector of our society that doesn't want any kind of development, any kind of progress and they're using environmental laws to shut that down and it doesn't.
It goes to managing our National Forest and our public land.
The other projects I mentioned, there are people who don't want to see any kind of growth or development and it's a really totally hands off.
Approach that they're wanting.
A lot of these same people are pushing the green agenda, saying we want to electrify everything, but we don't want to do any of this in our backyard.
No mining here in the US we'll just buy it from Communist China who ported resources from around the world, and we can't, we can't go on like that.
We've got to use the resources we have, use them in a responsible, efficient manner because we actually do it better here in the US than anyplace else.
And the irony of this is what?
A lot of these people are pushing is doing more damage to the environment on a global scale than than it would be otherwise.
So I'd say we're we're getting a win for the economy and the environment with the legislation that we're pushing.
Well I mean are they just totally anti development Sir they're they're their concerns would would appear to be at least.
Deep seated and and and almost spiritual in nature.
Well, and they're they're out of touch with reality on what's happening in the real world.
We have to we have to build things if we're going to keep progressing.
If we're going to keep growing our society and maintaining the the way of life that we all enjoy and the rest of the world trying to catch up with this.
I've I've I've got a fancy chart here Steve this shows the world energy consumption by by fuel source and if if you as you can see it's on an exponential rise.
And it's not.
Every fuel source we have continues to grow in the world.
Production of energy from from wind and solar is less than 5%.
And also fuels are not going away, they're going to be used.
The question is where are they going to be produced and how cleanly are they going to be produced and how cleanly are they going to be used?
And we can do it better here in the US you know, US gas, natural gas is 40% cleaner than Russian gas.
And the list goes on and on.
And as innovation increases, we're going to figure out how to capture that carbon that's being released from fossil fuels and to store that.
There's a lot of great things happening where they actually split the carbon out from the the oxygen and CO2.
Put the carbon in a slurry and inject it back into the ground where it solidifies into rock.
Those kind of innovations are what's going to keep us on the leading edge, not stopping progress at every every turn and every corner.
Well, they they would argue so that they aren't against progress, they just simply want they're they're profoundly concerned about the impact, particularly that fossil fuels have and in terms of climate change.
And they want their cake and they they want their cake and they want to eat it too.
And I'm all for them.
We want everything we we all breathe the same air, drink the same water.
But you've got to have a bit of reality, and you've got to apply the science.
And the math.
I've said all along, the problem with the Biden's energy policy is, is twofold.
It's physics and math.
The science doesn't add up and the math doesn't add up.
And I think a lot of Democrats are realizing that now.
And we're seeing the damage that's doing to our economy when we decrease the amount of natural gas we produce.
That doesn't just affect.
Electricity, natural gas is the main ingredient in agriculture.
So now we're seeing extremely high food prices, we're seeing inflation across the board that the feds trying to control that through monetary policy, but it's really a supply and demand issue and America needs to start producing stuff again, increase the supply to meet the demand and that'll drive prices and inflation down.
What is is.
Some would argue that complete energy independence in the United States or in any country is essentially impossible to achieve.
Are they correct?
No, we can easily achieve that in the United States because we're blessed with the resources.
If you look at China, they can't have energy independence because they don't have the resources.
That's why they've gone around the world and they started hoarding resources.
We can do it with with fossil fuels, we can do it with nuclear.
Every kind of energy source that's out there.
We have the resources to make that here in the US now.
There are limits with with science, with physics, on how much energy you can produce.
From wind and solar.
So if we're going all wind and solar we can't be energy independent.
But if we have an all of the above energy strategy where we utilize technology and innovation, the US can easily be energy independent.
And I would say probably more so than anybody else in the world and do it with lower carbon emissions than than other countries.
You know our carbon emissions are going down while the developing world's carbon emissions are going up and the the current thought is that if everybody just had an electric vehicle.
That would solve the world's problems.
And again when you go through the math on that, the numbers just don't add up.
We would do it would be very little impact the global carbon emission to switch all the vehicles to electric vehicles.
The concern though of well, of the democratic minority anyway, on your committee, I think one of the one of the Members described the legislation.
The entire package is the fox in the Hen house.
Your response to that?
Well, that's expected from from the member that said that.
But again there are Democrats in the House that I've been working with that are also the committee that know we have to do permitting reform there.
Most Democrats in Congress are gonna push back against any kind of fossil fuel development.
I mean, you've got the exceptions with Joe Manchin and some others in the Senate and and maybe a few Democrats in the House, some of the Texas Democrats on fossil fuels.
But they're denying reality when you look at the sources of energy in the world and knowing that we cannot need it through wind and solar and a lot of these same people who are pushing wind and solar are trying to close down.
Nuclear plants, they don't want to build new nuclear power plants.
They want to take out dam where you have hydropower.
The largest source of carbon free green energy in the United States right now is hydropower.
But you know, the same people who are pushing wind and solar want to tear out our dams and they're actually causing our dams to be operated less efficiently.
And I have no problem with wind and solar.
There are certain applications for it where it's great.
I would like to see more distributed solar where you were seeing it at residences and it at businesses where the energy was being consumed there and put back on the grid instead of trying to build huge energy production facilities and distribute that all across the country.
So there's if again if we'll get back to the science and the engineering and what makes energy work, we could be much more effective at this keep.
Energy cost low and make the environment cleaner at the same time.
Got into their congressman because we're simply out of time.
We thank you very much for your stay dry down there.
Thank you, Steve.
Always good to be with you.
Alright, come back soon.
And we'll be back in just a moment.
We are back.
For most Arkansas students, K12 and college, next week is spring break, so two for the General Assembly.
But for rather a few members.
That work will continue away from the House and Senate floor pending a proposed changes in the state criminal justice system, some of the most significant and expensive in decades.
Representative Jimmy Gazaway of Paragould and Senator Ben Gilmore of Crossett helping to shape that legislation, and they returned to the desk with an update.
Gentleman, the diamond dynamic duo of criminal justices, thanks for coming back.
The session marches on.
We're about the end of the third month now and both Chambers have yet to really address this because legislation we understand is still taking shape.
Mr. Gazaway will start with you.
What are we going to see?
What's the status of things?
So in terms of the criminal justice, you know we've we've been holding off on it because we're trying to see how things develop in terms of the budget, right.
That's certainly a big part of this.
And so of course with the Revenue Stabilization Act and ensuring that we have a balanced budget, things that we have to take into consideration, of course the new learns act which is going to significantly increase funding for education, then of course we have to meet adequacy in terms of education.
And so that is part of the calculation and then the impact of all the other things that we're doing.
During the session to make sure that we have a balanced budget and the question is how much can we devote to criminal justice in that context.
We want to be responsible.
We have to be wise stewards of the tax money that we have.
And so that's been the big concern is how does this fit into the overall budget scheme.
And so I think we're there, we're about there.
But that's why this is taken as long as it has been.
Senator, Mr. Gilmore, the the until you get education, taken care of until.
You get some hard numbers that that's half your general budget, right or more than half your general budget right there.
Do you guys have a timeline?
Well, I think the timeline is very soon.
Obviously we're getting down to the end of session.
We're having those meetings with the governor's office, with the the budget folks to determine what that, what that cost is that we can afford.
Keep in mind when it comes to public safety and criminal justice, there's also the factor of what's the cost if we don't do this.
I think that was something that we talked about.
Last time, we were on the show with you, Steve.
So that's very important that we factor that into this discussion.
But at the end of the day, our goal is going to be provide a bill that that gives more protections to our communities and to people that that keeps violent offenders, repeat violent offenders, criminals off our streets.
And at the same time that does it to representative gasaway's point, that does it in a responsible way that that falls within budget constraints.
And so with that.
We're very close to having a bill out and hopefully something that Members when they get back from spring break can look at digest, have these conversations, get get their input and start moving that through the legislative process.
What needs to be hammered down what what are what are you discussing now with your colleagues but.
Well, generally we're we're discussing all of the policy, we're discussing what the, what the bill looks like but also again in into what the time constraints are that meet the budget constraints of implementing this bill.
So obviously capacity is a big part of that.
Are you flying blind right now gentlemen in in terms of capacity until you get these numbers down and particularly on the education side, well no, I wouldn't say we're flying blind.
I think what we are, what we're trying to do is be responsible.
Given the fact that the governor has priorities, education was a big one.
Criminal safe or criminal justice is a big priority for the governor and the legislature.
So these are priorities we have.
We're just trying to be responsible with the dollar amount that we are working with.
So with that capacity, obviously we have surplus funds that can address capacity, but we also need to be responsible with those as well, Mr. Gazaway.
So I don't think it would be accurate to say that we're flying blind.
I mean, we have an idea certainly about what we need in terms of capacity and we have an idea about how the parole reform will affect the budget and what that is going to cost at least certainly for the next several years.
And so I don't think it would be accurate to say that we're flying blind, but one of the things that you realize when you begin to analyze this issue is that this problem with capacity particularly was not something that was created overnight and it's not going to be something that we solve overnight.
This is the product of.
Capacity being neglected in our state for decades and it's not something that we're going to be able to come in and in one fell swoop solve.
This is going to be I think a really good first step toward addressing capacity.
I think this will be a very good first step in seeing true truth and sentencing in terms of you know parole reform and and and reforming the broken parole system.
This is a good first step.
But this is not the end of the road.
There's going to be future work to be done on these issues and.
Sessions to come.
I think you are both due, I think, to to meet privately with the governor regarding this legislation in the coming days.
Can you say now that you are substantially in tune the administrative excuse me the executive and the legislative are you substantially in tuned still or are there some significant things that you need to work out well the the governor's office has been very engaged in the policy going forward.
We, we, we as as representative Gassaway and I started working on this months ago and and just to circle back real quick to what he said we've been working on this starting back last year so months ago trying to address.
A decades issue, right?
So an issue that has been building over several decades that is going to continue to need a lot of work down the road even after we pass legislation in this session, there's going to be even more work to continue on that.
But to answer your question more specifically, Steve, the governor's office has been very engaged.
We were meeting with the Governor's office yesterday, going through the policy, making sure that what's fine-tuned to what we're trying to accomplish and so.
With that I, I think that you know, represent Gasway can can chime in on this as well.
But again it is a decades old problem that we're dealing with that we're trying to address in a short window of time gentleman from Paragould.
So I don't think there's any really any daylight between US and the governor's office on this.
We appreciate the governor's leadership and also I should say the Attorney general's leadership.
You know Attorney General Griffin has been out front on this issue for months talking about the need to address capacity, the need, the need to address.
The broken parole system, there's no issues between the legislature and the governor's office and certainly the attorney general who's been leading on this.
But there are multiple pieces to this and we're just trying to make sure that we get it right.
So in terms of the parole reform and and true truth and sentencing, you know, we're taking some of the most serious violent felonies in Arkansas law and making them 100% time.
You're going to do day for day if you commit first degree murder in this state, if you commit aggravated robbery, if you commit rape.
But that's an important part of this is it is having true truth in sentencing with respect to the most serious violent crimes.
Of course that comes with a cost.
Then addressing capacity, as Senator Gilmore said, this is an issue that's been neglected for decades and we're trying to fix it.
I don't think we're going to be able to fix it overnight.
And again, being responsible about it.
Sure, if you, if you weren't going to be responsible and if you weren't trying to be wise stewards, you could devote, you know, you could devote a ton of money toward it.
But we have to.
We have priorities.
We have to keep those things in order as we as we address.
Couple of factors have, I'm sorry senator, well, I was just going to to sort of echo along with what he's saying in addition to those things with the truth and sentencing and capacity, there's also common sense reforms in the bill that need to be there as well.
So we're looking at all of that from some mental health components in the bill to you know reforms as it relates to recidivism and then you know sort of proven proven reforms that.
And we've pulled from from across the nation that help with reentry and getting in and sort of breaking that cycle of recidivism.
So there's a lot of different components to this bill other than just the truth and sentencing which is very key and the capacity that that the truth and sentencing sort of helps lead to.
So there's a lot of components with that.
And and again this is not something that you can just solve with this one bill.
These are going to be things we're going to continue to work on and and legislative sessions to come, a couple of factors have.
Risen in recent days.
One is the concern among some schools superintendents that the learns act implies a lot more revenue than they had anticipated at the local level anyway, putting some pressure anyway on them that they had not anticipated or they say they had not anticipated.
And the other thing is a bank failure in California, then a bank failure in New York and.
Uncertainty hanging over the nation's fiscal system and suddenly there is an inflation may not be as the fear is that inflation won't be a problem.
It could be recession.
How does that color your thinking?
How does that color the discussion out there, Mr. Gazaway?
Well, once again I think that goes back to we're trying to be responsible.
You have to take all of those factors into consideration.
You have to look at the state of the economy.
Do we think things are going to improve?
You know the bank failures, which are a real concern, you have to be concerned about that going forward, what effect that could have on the economy.
You note the expense of the learns act.
I mean we're devoting once again significant making significant strides in devoting significant money toward teacher pay for instance.
And we go from one of the worst in the nation to 1st in the nation when cost adjusted for cost of living.
So yes, that's a substantial investment, yes, I think it's worth it.
But ultimately you have to take all of these factors into consideration, the state of the economy.
The cost of education, adequacy, balance, budget and then be responsible when addressing the criminal justice issue.
One of the things that the administrator that the that the governor ran on a pillar of her campaign were tax cuts, income tax cuts, gradual reductions in the state income tax.
Gentlemen, under the circumstances are you detect any?
Reluctance on the part of your colleagues.
Look I think our colleagues to represent gas waste point uncertainty.
Let me put it that well I think our colleagues representative gazaway's point want to be cautious and good stewards of the taxpayer money and I think we're we're going to do that.
I think that when you going back to the learns act when you look back at the investment that's been made in public education just in teacher pay of loan is huge and so we're we are showing where our priorities are in relation to what.
The governor's priorities are she's made that very clear education and and criminal justice being two of those have direct correlations and so that's that's something that we have to address and we've we're going to address the session we've already done that with learns but with in with tax cuts in in recruiting business and improving the the the overall economic structure of our of our state tax cuts are key to that putting more money back into pack taxpayers pockets is important and so.
There there certainly is a willingness and a certainly a a a push for him, this legislature and the governor to reduce the overall tax impact on people.
We got to do that in a smart way.
I don't think anyone is fooled that this is going to happen overnight.
This is going to be again that process and So what does that look like this session I think let's have that discussion after criminal justice is is passed and have have that discussion first, then we have a better picture.
But I think you will see this.
Legislature with the governor's leadership take action on on tax cuts and continuing that phase out.
So I got to end it now.
Gentlemen, thanks very much.
You're still under subpoena.
You're not excused.
So come back when this thing takes shape, OK. We're simply out of time.
Thanks to you both.
Thank you for joining us.
See you next week.
Support for Arkansas Week provided by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, The Arkansas Times and KUARFM 89.