The roots of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources go back to one of the first standing committees appointed by the Senate -- the Committee on Public Lands. Although the chronology reflects a succession of name changes, the jurisdiction of the original Committee on Public Lands has been in continuous existence for over 170 years. During the first 100 years the structure of the Committee changed very little, but its jurisdiction was steadily increasing with the westward movement of the Nation and the problems of statehood and expansion.

The Louisiana Purchase   Top 

     The Committee on Public Lands was created in 1816 primarily at that time to supervise the laws relating to the settlement of the Louisiana Territory.

     As everyone knows, the Louisiana Purchase was negotiated by President Thomas Jefferson in an offer from Napoleon for the sum of $15,000,000. President Jefferson had learned of a secret agreement in which Spain had returned the Louisiana territory to France. However, early in 1803, Napoleon urgently needed funds for his military conquests in Europe and made plans to sell the Louisiana territory instead. President Jefferson lost no time in negotiating for the 828,000 square miles consisting of the greatest and richest valley of land in the world and called a special session of Congress to inform the Senate of the treaty, which was approved by a vote of 24 to 7 on October 20, 1803.

     This great land acquisition, located in the heartland of America, not only doubled the Nation's size but greatly increased the economic resources of the United States at a cost of less than 3 cents per acre for the entire territory.

Opening of the West   Top 

     In 1812, the General Land Office was formed to oversee the disposition of new lands acquired along our expanding frontiers. The Treaty of 1846 with Great Britain had settled the territorial dispute in the far northwest. The American domain of the southwest was completed with the annexation of Texas in 1845, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 (Mexican Cession), and the Gadsden Purchase. By the end of 1853, California and the Oregon territory had all been brought under the American flag. By 1860, the population of the Nation had doubled.

     The lure of ownership of lands west of the original 13 States made possible by Federal policy of land donations to anyone brave enough to take the risk led to extensive migration and many people began to move west to settle in the cheap land available there. The Homestead Act of 1862 providing for grants of acreage to settlers was the result of legislation under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Public Lands.

     With the westward expansion of the Nation following the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase, and as States and territories were added to the Union, Congress was forced to debate whether States would be admitted slave or free. The settlement of this issue would result in manner bitter conflicts between sections of the Nation which would last several decades and lead inevitably to the Civil War.

Early Need for Congressional Oversight of America's Natural Resources   Top 

     The diverse problems arising from the settlement of our western frontier prompted the Government to create the Department of the Interior in 1849 to be the custodian of the Nation's vast federally owned lands and natural resources. In the preceding 3 years, the United States had enlarged its domain by more than 3 million square miles, reaching nearly its present size between Canada and Mexico. The legislative oversight of the new Department's functions would fall under the Committee's jurisdiction.

     The Federal Government began to designate and set aside areas of great natural beauty to be reserved for all future Americans to enjoy. In 1872 Congress established the first national park at Yellowstone in the Territories of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and placed it under the exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior.

     In 1891 Congress enacted legislation providing for the establishment of the first Federal forest reserves from the public domain. In 1902 the first wildlife refuge was established by President Theodore Roosevelt on Pelican Island, Florida. By 1910, most States had created agencies protecting wildlife and fisheries.

Conservation Era Begins   Top 

     The years between 1901 and 1917 marked the first concerted Congressional movement towards conservation of natural resources and the protection and preservation of forests, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges and historic areas of the Nation. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation for the establishment of the National Park Service under the supervision of the Department of the Interior.

     Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which became public law as a result of legislation reported by the Committee on Public Lands, great regions of special scientific or historic interest were placed under Government protection. I find comfort in knowing that portions of the primeval forests and bayous of Louisiana along with other vast spaces of the American landscape, its roaring rivers, immense forests, and majestic mountains have been preserved for generations to enjoy.

Committee's Jurisdiction Increased   Top 

     In 1921, following a Senate committee consolidation, the Committee on Public Lands acquired the jurisdiction of the Committee on Geological Surveys and was retitled Committee on Public Lands and Surveys. A quarter of a century later, following the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs assimilated the jurisdiction of the Committee on Public Lands and Surveys and of the following other committees: Indian Affairs, Territorial and Insular Affairs, Mines and Mining, and Irrigation and Reclamation.

     The acquisition of offshore territories at the end of the 19th century altered traditional policy which emphasized statehood as the ultimate objective for contiguous territories. The newly acquired insular areas - Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, and American Samoa and Guam in the Pacific - which possessed unique geographic and cultural characteristics, were valued primarily for their strategic importance. They did not fit the traditional mold of the States. In a series of decisions rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the early 1900's, the offshore territories, except Hawaii, were classified as unincorporated, a term distinct from previous territories destined to become States.

     In the first Session of the 80th Congress (1947), the Committee acquired the jurisdiction of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Certain islands in Micronesia which had been under Japanese mandate from the League of Nations were placed under United States administration by the United Nations after World War II. Although not a United States territory, administration of the Trust Territory was entrusted to the United States in 1947 to carry out its rehabilitation and development. Under this relationship, the Trust Territory was divided into four separate entities with which separate relationships have evolved: the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory; the Republic of Palau, a continuing Trust Territory; and the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, "freely associated" independent states.

     The United States currently advocates a policy of self-determined political, economic and social development toward its flag territories and insular areas. The principle of self-determination has remained a fundamental U.S. policy objective since the end of World War II, and has been reaffirmed by all recent U.S. administrations.

     In addition, the Committee, since 1820, was closely concerned with U.S. relations with our Indian citizens.

Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs Formed   Top 

     In the 2nd Session of the 80th Congress (1948), the committee was renamed the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. The Interior and Insular Affairs Committee had enormous geographical jurisdiction over the Nation's land, mineral and territorial responsibilities at home and abroad.

     This included forest reserves, national parks, battlefields, preservation of prehistoric ruins, irrigation and reclamation, water supply, interstate compacts, as well as legislative responsibility for the publicly owned lands of the United States generally which consisted of more than 700 million acres with their surface and mineral resources, plus the mineral resources of millions of acres of other lands the surface of which had passed into private or State ownership, in addition to the mineral resources of the Outer Continental Shelf. Thus it had legislative jurisdiction over preservation and development of much of the vast natural resources with which our country is endowed, including our national parks and forests, wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, and trails.

     The legislation for the enactment of statehood for Alaska and Hawaii came under the jurisdiction of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee.

Energy and Environmental Era Begins   Top 

     The evolution of Federal energy policy from public land management contributed greatly to the major Congressional activities beginning with the second half of the 20th century. Responsibility had been divided, with the Department of the Interior responsible for oil, natural gas and coal policy, and the Atomic Energy Commission in charge of nuclear energy.

     There was a similar evolution starting with the Committee's concern with national parks and wilderness areas that, among other things, resulted in the committee developing and ultimately reporting the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which required a detailed analysis of all "major Federal actions that significantly affect the quality of the human environment."

     Beginning in the 1970's, a new concept of environmental management came to be an accepted Federal policy concern. A Council on Environmental Quality was established to provide the President with objective advice and a continuing and comprehensive overview of the fragmented Federal jurisdiction. An annual environmental quality report was required to be submitted to the Congress to provide a statement of progress in environmental management.

The Arab Oil Embargo and the Gathering Crisis   Top 

     The oil price shocks in the aftermath of the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 propelled energy issues to the top of the national agenda and ultimately led to the creation of a separate agency for energy.

     President Nixon's "Project Independence" initiated in late 1973 outlined a series of plans and goals to insure that within a decade Americans would achieve energy independence.

     In December 1973, with the embargo starting to cause supply problems, President Nixon set up the Federal Energy Office headed by William E. Simon, then Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, as a crisis-management agency. In 1974, Congress established the Federal Energy Administration, which absorbed and enlarged the energy office. Later in 1974, Congress abolished the Atomic Energy Commission and assigned its regulatory duties to a new Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its nuclear research and weapons work to another new organization, the Energy Research and Development Administration.

     President Ford in his January 1975 State of the Union Message outlined a comprehensive set of legislative proposals also built around the theme of energy independence. The struggle which ensued to enact the first major energy law of the 1970's culminated in the signing of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act [EPCA] in December of 1975, which included authorization of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Creation of Committee on Energy and Natural Resources   Top 

     On January 4, 1977, in the 1st session of the 95th Congress, Senator Adlai Stevenson and Senator Bob Packwood introduced S. Res. 4, the Committee System Reorganization Amendments of 1977. That resolution was based on a 1976 study and report of the Select Committee on Committees which they had co-chaired. On February 4, 1977, the Senate adopted S. Res. 4, and the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources was created. Its jurisdiction included most of the functions of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs in addition to the new areas of natural gas pricing and regulation, energy regulation, energy research and development of all forms of energy, coal production, hydroelectric power and non-military development of nuclear energy.

     The Committee's responsibility for Indian Affairs ended upon Senate approval of S. Res. 4, when a Temporary (now permanent) Select Committee on Indian Affairs was established.

     Also early in 1977, at the urging of President Jimmy Carter to create a Cabinet-level Department of Energy, the Government Affairs Committee began hearing on this proposed new energy agency. The Department of Energy Organization Act, which was signed into law on August 4, 1977, accomplished the merging of some 50 energy-related functions of various Federal agencies including those of the Federal Energy Administration, the Energy Research and Development Administration, and the Federal Power Commission to facilitate a coherent administration of a national energy policy.

     Oversight of the newly formed Department of Energy would be the responsibility of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

     James R. Schlesinger was confirmed to be the first Secretary of Energy on August 4, 1977, and the new Department of Energy became effective on October 1, 1977.

     Later in the 1st Session of the 95th Congress, in addressing the energy crisis, President Carter proclaimed a theme of "moral equivalent of war" in his campaign for energy independence. The Congress embarked on a program to develop a comprehensive energy policy resulting in the passage of several distinct types of energy laws as part of the Nation's struggle for energy security, including mandatory energy conservation measures, oil price deregulation, natural gas policy, including phased price deregulation, and other emergency response measures, such as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, enacted in 1975 as part of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which has grown to be the Nation's primary defense against the economic damage of an oil supply disruption.

The Modern Energy and Natural Resources Commitee   Top 

     Since the passage of the 1977 Committee System Reorganization Amendments, the structure and jurisdiction of the panel has remained fairly constant. Several factors distinguish the Energy and Natural Resources Committee from other Senate Committees.

     The Energy Committee, has distinguished itself as among the most nonpartisan, or bipartisan, in the Senate. Because the issues considered affect regional more than partisan interests, the panel has traditionally approached its work in a consensus building mode. Most policy considerations occur between members prior to public discussion of an issue, so that by the time the panel reports a measure, controversy has been abated and the vote is as close to unanimous as possible. Much of this consensual approach has been attributed to the narrow margin afforded the majority party on the Committee.

     The Energy and Natural Resources panel is generally a constituent-oriented committee. The panel has retained primarily State-related interest for Senators, and has kept a Western emphasis in its composition. However, world events and the 1977 restructuring of committee jurisdiction have affected the geographic composition of the panel in the last decade. A few Senators from energy-poor States have been attracted to the panel to protect their State's interests in the face of energy shortages and rising energy prices. Also, the addition of domestic atomic energy production, coal, and other energy matters to the Committee's jurisdiction attracted Members seeking to serve the interests of their State. Finally, energy issues have enticed Senators with personal policy interests in energy. Yet, for the most part, jurisdictional changes have served to reinforce the Committee's constituency orientation.

This was taken from the Committee History, published in 1989 as Senate Document 100-46.
To request a copy click here.