By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin landed congressional subcommittee assignments this week that could have a big impact on eastern Oklahoma’s water resources, transportation programs and sundry tribal issues.
The House freshman stated in a media release that the subcommittee “assignments (will) cover a broad range of issues.”
The Westville Republican, who was appointed earlier to the House committees on Natural Resources and Transportation and Infrastructure, will serve on five subcommittees within the purview of those two panels.
Mullin’s subcommittees in the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure have jurisdiction over water resources and the environment, highways and transit, and economic development, public buildings and emergency management.
Mullin said issues before the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit include the development of national road transportation policy, construction and improvement of highway and transit facilities, and the implementation of safety and research programs. He said all of these issues are “critical to Oklahoma and this district.”
“We are a major artery for transportation, yet Oklahoma remains a donor state,” Mullin said. “We contribute more to the Federal Highway Trust Fund than we get back to spend on transportation projects.”
A 2011 report by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, shows Oklahoma received almost 99 cents in transportation funds for every dollar it sent to Washington in 2009. That was up from the average return ratio of 86.3 cents from 1956 to 2009.
However, a 2011 study by the Government Accountability Office showed that all 50 states received more federal highway funding than they submitted in taxes from 2005 to 2009. Oklahoma received $1.31 for every tax dollar sent to Washington for the five-year period, the study said.
The GAO report indicates the increase was because of the authorization of increased funding, which “was augmented with about $30 billion in general revenues since fiscal year 2008.” Federal highway funding comes from state contributions of revenue generated from fuel taxes and other fees. Funding to states is apportioned based upon various calculations.
Mullin’s assignments in the Committee on Natural Resources include subcommittees with oversight of tribal and Alaskan native matters, and water and hydroelectric generation. Mullin, noting that he is one of only two Native Americans in the new Congress, said he was “looking forward to working with” the tribes represented within the 2nd District and across the country.
“I’m also pleased to be on two subcommittees that deal with water,” Mullin said. “Water is one of our most vital natural resources in the 2nd District, and I am committed to protecting that asset.”
Denise Deason-Toyne, the president of Save the Illinois River, said Mullin is positioned well “to help protect water, which in STIR’s opinion is northeastern Oklahoma’s most valuable resource.” Deason-Toyne said she and other members of the Tahlequah-based citizens’ coalition believe they “share (with Mullin) an appreciation of Oklahoma’s scenic rivers, especially the Illinois River.”
Mullin, Deason-Toyne said, is a stakeholder who lives in the Illinois River watershed. She said the Illinois River, together with Tenkiller Lake, are “high-quality water resources” that “represent a huge economic asset for Green Country as well as a key to the quality of life we enjoy.”
“Sadly clean, safe water appears to be under assault by organization such as the American Farm Bureau Federation and other lobbies which have targeted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and our nation’s Clean Water Act,” Deason-Toyne said. “I look forward to visiting personally with Congressman Mullin about Oklahoma’s scenic rivers and the challenges they face.”
Mullin said in response to questions from the Phoenix that although he has “railed against the EPA and its onerous regulations toward businesses,” he has “not had an opportunity to fully study the Illinois River pollutant issues.”
“But I do understand that it is a complex issue and that there are numerous stakeholders that need to be at the table,” he said. “What I don’t want to see happen is for the EPA to issue a ruling that has an adverse effect on our economy by harming tourism.”
Mullin also reconciled his recent votes against federal disaster aid for Hurricane Sandy victims with one of his subcommittees’ oversight of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which responds to natural disasters.
“This subcommittee assignment will put me in a great position to ensure that wasteful spending measures that have nothing to do with the original disasters are kept out of the final relief efforts,” Mullin said. “I also intend to do all I can to ensure that any future relief packages are fully paid for and not added to our national debt.”
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.