Collins to join influential House Energy and Commerce Committee
Rep. Chris Collins’ brief congressional career will take a big step forward next year when he joins the House committee that churns out more legislation than any other.
And the Clarence Republican said Wednesday that he will use his new perch on the Energy and Commerce Committee to focus on issues that he thinks matter most to Western New York: promoting fracking, ensuring that the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus gets the proper federal funding and pushing for expanded broadband Internet service in rural areas.
“The primary job of a member of Congress is to represent their constituents, which are individuals with their issues, but also businesses and their issues,” said Collins, who won a second term in Congress in November’s election. “So being a member of Energy and Commerce, which is arguably the most influential there is, will allow me to better yet represent business constituents as well as individuals on issues that are timely and important.”
Collins’ ascension to Energy and Commerce means that Western New York will have a voice on a panel that originates laws that touch virtually the entire American economy, from the energy sector to manufacturing to health care to telecommunications. He’s the first Western New Yorker on the panel since Rep. Bill Paxon, R-Amherst, who left office in 1999.
In addition, the Energy and Commerce panel has jurisdiction over environmental legislation, and it also has an active Oversight and Investigations subcommittee.
It’s on that panel where Collins hopes to turn congressional attention to fracking.
“I’m going to do what I can on Oversight to make sure we have testimony that is factual and data-driven to say that there is no reason not to hydrofrack in New York,” Collins said.
Of course, Collins will be a junior member of that subcommittee and every other panel he serves on, so there’s no guarantee it will take up his priorities. Besides, the federal government’s role in overseeing or promoting fracking on private property pales in comparison to the role states have – and in New York, a moratorium continues on the controversial natural gas drilling practice, which some environmentalists say can contaminate ground water.
Collins made clear, though, that he thinks one of his top priorities on the panel should be to promote American energy independence.
“Green energy is certainly a component of that effort and Buffalo is becoming home to key players in the sector,” he said. “However, harnessing the full potential of North American petroleum, natural gas and clean coal remains the fastest way to achieve independence.”
Collins will also serve on the panel’s Health subcommittee, where he hopes to help make sure that companies at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus are receiving a fair amount of funding in the competitive grants offered by the National Institutes of Health.
He said he also hopes to focus on the importance of telemedicine in rural areas as well as oversight of the government’s approval for new drugs and medical treatments.
And on the Telecommunications subcommittee, Collins hopes to promote the spread of broadband Internet service in rural areas. He noted that the government currently overestimates how broadly that service is offered, saying he hopes to correct that problem.
That subcommittee also will look at refreshing the 1996 communications law that set the stage for the Internet boom of recent decades.
“I want to make sure that smaller areas, like my rural district, are not disadvantaged” as that legislation is drawn up, he said.
Collins’ local focus stands in contrast to the 2012 campaign that first brought him to Congress, in which he concentrated largely on bashing Obamacare.
While the committee may take a fresh look at the health care law, “my laser-like focus is on things that can help Western New York,” said Collins, who will leave the low-profile Small Business, Agriculture and Science, Space and Technology committees when he joins Energy and Commerce.
That approach is not unlike the one followed for a decade by Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.
While the Republican gains in November’s elections helped Collins win a seat on the Energy and Commerce panel, the Democratic losses doomed Higgins’ chance of returning to the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, where he served briefly when Democrats controlled the House between 2007 and 2010.
Because they lost seats in November, Democrats did not get any new slots on that tax-writing panel, where Higgins is first in line to return when an opening appears.
As a result, Higgins will continue to serve on the Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs committees.