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Archive for July 2010

Focusing on U.S. government salvage capabilities at the Oil Spill Commission hearing in New Orleans

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While in New Orleans for the Oil Spill Commission’s 2-day hearing that kicked off their 6-month investigation of the causes of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and to make recommendations to the President about the future of offshore drilling in the U.S., I provided testimony on the U.S. government’s salvage capabilities.

 Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy Chris Smith introduces the session, followed by my 3-minutes of testimony in this video:

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.  
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

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Written by Will Nuckols

July 25, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Will new Obama ocean policy affect offshore drilling?

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Today President Obama became the first American President to codify a U.S. position on Oceans through the establishment of an Executive Order.    

While the recommendations to the President by the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force were just published in their final form today, indications of what would be in the policy document have been circulating since last fall, and while there are small changes in the final document, the Executive Order largely follows the draft recommendations from 2009.   

The “policy of the United States” for oceans does include some language that will potentially result in changes from the status-quo. The policy will “promote the well-being, prosperity, and security of present and future generations,” and depending on how this language is interpreted, decisions on resource utilization, which has too often been short-sighted, might finally take a long term view.   

Essential Elements of a Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning process

The nine “essential elements” of the Obama Administration’s process to select optimal uses and reduce/avoid use conflicts may result in a good long run public policy process, but it is doubtful that they could move fast enough to address the Gulf of Mexico issue of deepwater drilling or the Shell request to drill in the Arctic. Those decisions are likely to be made by DOI in a more traditional manner.

 

While there is a nod to the events in the Gulf of Mexico (“The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and resulting environmental crisis is a stark reminder of how vulnerable our marine environments are, and how much communities and the Nation rely on healthy and resilient ocean and coastal ecosystems”) there is little that directly addresses the problems that the people of the Gulf of Mexico struggle with today….with one potential exception: coastal and marine spatial planning.  But that process is intended to be a fairly through, methodical process with broad input from a range of federal, state and tribal stakeholders, in addition to input from affected parties and the public. These processes are designed to generate the greatest buy-in, but it is unlikely that they can move quickly enough at this point to address fast-moving policy issues that are on the Administration’s plate today, particularly the hot-button topic about whether to allow, or indefinitely block, new deepwater drilling in U.S. waters.   

 But while it doesn’t provide a clear roadmap that indicates where we are headed as a nation which continues to struggle with conflicting uses and practices that have significant impacts on the environment and the economy, it does provide a framework for organization.   

How the organizing governance bodies, headed by the National Ocean Council (NOC), make decisions will have a large role on the function of these groups, and their importance to public policy development and oversight. The last Administration did not declare how decisions would be made within the Commission on Ocean Policy (COP) or in their subordinate organizing groups, and this limited their usefulness for some policy areas. This Administration’s decision that “The Co-Chairs would seek to encourage decisions and recommendations based on consensus of the [National Ocean Council]” with disputes being forwarded to the President may mean that those frustrated with a NEPA process where those with “comment authority” are ultimately ignored and a Coastal Zone Management Act “coastal consistency” which allows veto power to one entity – the state – would become more balanced. Or these sorts of conflicts may never reach the NOC, having been deemed to fall into the category of decisions constrained by existing statutory processes which determine comment and decision authority. It might take a move by Congress if the processes surrounding those processes will change.   

So while we have a National Ocean Policy for the first time, and we have a 96 page policy recommendation that will be the Bible that this Administration follows, how this exactly plays out – we’ll have to wait a bit longer to wait and see. 

 

The full executive order is included below:    

The White House    

Office of the Press Secretary    

For Immediate Release
July 19, 2010

Executive Order–Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes    

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:    

Section 1. Purpose. The ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes provide jobs, food, energy resources, ecological services, recreation, and tourism opportunities, and play critical roles in our Nation’s transportation, economy, and trade, as well as the global mobility of our Armed Forces and the maintenance of international peace and security. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and resulting environmental crisis is a stark reminder of how vulnerable our marine environments are, and how much communities and the Nation rely on healthy and resilient ocean and coastal ecosystems. America’s stewardship of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes is intrinsically linked to environmental sustainability, human health and well-being, national prosperity, adaptation to climate and other environmental changes, social justice, international diplomacy, and national and homeland security.    

This order adopts the recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, except where otherwise provided in this order, and directs executive agencies to implement those recommendations under the guidance of a National Ocean Council. Based on those recommendations, this order establishes a national policy to ensure the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources, enhance the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies, preserve our maritime heritage, support sustainable uses and access, provide for adaptive management to enhance our understanding of and capacity to respond to climate change and ocean acidification, and coordinate with our national security and foreign policy interests.    

This order also provides for the development of coastal and marine spatial plans that build upon and improve existing Federal, State, tribal, local, and regional decisionmaking and planning processes. These regional plans will enable a more integrated, comprehensive, ecosystem-based, flexible, and proactive approach to planning and managing sustainable multiple uses across sectors and improve the conservation of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.    

Sec. 2. Policy. (a) To achieve an America whose stewardship ensures that the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes are healthy and resilient, safe and productive, and understood and treasured so as to promote the well-being, prosperity, and security of present and future generations, it is the policy of the United States to:    

  • (i) protect, maintain, and restore the health and biological diversity of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources;
  • (ii) improve the resiliency of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems, communities, and economies;
  • (iii) bolster the conservation and sustainable uses of land in ways that will improve the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems;
  • (iv) use the best available science and knowledge to inform decisions affecting the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes, and enhance humanity’s capacity to understand, respond, and adapt to a changing global environment;
  • (v) support sustainable, safe, secure, and productive access to, and uses of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes;
  • (vi) respect and preserve our Nation’s maritime heritage, including our social, cultural, recreational, and historical values;
  • (vii) exercise rights and jurisdiction and perform duties in accordance with applicable international law, including respect for and preservation of navigational rights and freedoms, which are essential for the global economy and international peace and security;
  • (viii) increase scientific understanding of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems as part of the global interconnected systems of air, land, ice, and water, including their relationships to humans and their activities;
  • (ix) improve our understanding and awareness of changing environmental conditions, trends, and their causes, and of human activities taking place in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes waters; and
  • (x) foster a public understanding of the value of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes to build a foundation for improved stewardship.

(b) The United States shall promote this policy by:    

  • (i) ensuring a comprehensive and collaborative framework for the stewardship of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes that facilitates cohesive actions across the Federal Government, as well as participation of State, tribal, and local authorities, regional governance structures, nongovernmental organizations, the public, and the private sector;
  • (ii) cooperating and exercising leadership at the international level;
  • (iii) pursuing the United States’ accession to the Law of the Sea Convention; and
  • (iv) supporting ocean stewardship in a fiscally responsible manner.

Sec. 3. Definitions. As used in this order:    

(a) “Final Recommendations” means the Final Recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force that shall be made publicly available and for which a notice of public availability shall be published in the Federal Register.    

(b) The term “coastal and marine spatial planning” means a comprehensive, adaptive, integrated, ecosystem-based, and transparent spatial planning process, based on sound science, for analyzing current and anticipated uses of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes areas. Coastal and marine spatial planning identifies areas most suitable for various types or classes of activities in order to reduce conflicts among uses, reduce environmental impacts, facilitate compatible uses, and preserve critical ecosystem services to meet economic, environmental, security, and social objectives. In practical terms, coastal and marine spatial planning provides a public policy process for society to better determine how the ocean, our coasts, and Great Lakes are sustainably used and protected — now and for future generations.    

(c) The term “coastal and marine spatial plans” means the plans that are certified by the National Ocean Council as developed in accordance with the definition, goals, principles, and process described in the Final Recommendations.    

Sec. 4. Establishment of National Ocean Council. (a) There is hereby established the National Ocean Council (Council).    

(b) The Council shall consist of the following:    

  • (i) the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, who shall be the Co-Chairs of the Council;
  • (ii) the Secretaries of State, Defense, the Interior, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Commerce, Labor, Transportation, Energy, and Homeland Security, the Attorney General, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere (Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the National Science Foundation, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff;
  • (iii) the National Security Advisor and the Assistants to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, Domestic Policy, Energy and Climate Change, and Economic Policy;
  • (iv) an employee of the Federal Government designated by the Vice President; and
  • (v) such other officers or employees of the Federal Government as the Co-Chairs of the Council may from time to time designate.

(c) The Co-Chairs shall invite the participation of the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to the extent consistent with the Commission’s statutory authorities and legal obligations, and may invite the participation of such other independent agencies as the Council deems appropriate.    

(d) The Co-Chairs of the Council, in consultation with the National Security Advisor and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, shall regularly convene and preside at meetings of the Council, determine its agenda, direct its work, and, as appropriate to address particular subject matters, establish and direct committees of the Council that shall consist exclusively of members of the Council.    

(e) A member of the Council may designate, to perform committee functions of the member, any person who is within such member’s department, agency, or office and who is (i) an officer of the United States appointed by the President, (ii) a member of the Senior Executive Service or the Senior Intelligence Service, (iii) a general officer or flag officer, or (iv) an employee of the Vice President.    

(f) Consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council on Environmental Quality shall provide the Council with funding, including through the National Science and Technology Council or the Office of Environmental Quality. The Council on Environmental Quality shall, to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, provide administrative support necessary to implement this order.    

(g) The day-to-day operations of the Council shall be administered by a Director and a Deputy Director, who shall supervise a full-time staff to assist the Co-Chairs in their implementation of this order.    

Sec. 5. Functions of the Council. (a) The Council shall have the structure and function and operate as defined in the Final Recommendations. The Council is authorized, after the Council’s first year of operation, to make modifications to its structure, function, and operations to improve its effectiveness and efficiency in furthering the policy set forth in section 2 of this order.    

(b) To implement the policy set forth in section 2 of this order, the Council shall provide appropriate direction to ensure that executive departments’, agencies’, or offices’ decisions and actions affecting the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes will be guided by the stewardship principles and national priority objectives set forth in the Final Recommendations, to the extent consistent with applicable law. The Council shall base its decisions on the consensus of its members. With respect to those matters in which consensus cannot be reached, the National Security Advisor shall coordinate with the Co-Chairs and, as appropriate, the Assistants to the President for Energy and Climate Change, and Economic Policy, and the employee of the United States designated by the Vice President, subject to the limitations set forth in section 9 of this order, to present the disputed issue or issues for decision by the President.    

Sec. 6. Agency Responsibilities. (a) All executive departments, agencies, and offices that are members of the Council and any other executive department, agency, or office whose actions affect the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes shall, to the fullest extent consistent with applicable law:    

  • (i) take such action as necessary to implement the policy set forth in section 2 of this order and the stewardship principles and national priority objectives as set forth in the Final Recommendations and subsequent guidance from the Council; and
  • (ii) participate in the process for coastal and marine spatial planning and comply with Council certified coastal and marine spatial plans, as described in the Final Recommendations and subsequent guidance from the Council.

(b)Each executive department, agency, and office that is required to take actions under this order shall prepare and make publicly available an annual report including a concise description of actions taken by the agency in the previous calendar year to implement the order, a description of written comments by persons or organizations regarding the agency’s compliance with this order, and the agency’s response to such comments.    

(c) Each executive department, agency, and office that is required to take actions under this order shall coordinate and contribute resources, as appropriate, to assist in establishing a common information management system as defined in the Final Recommendations and shall be held accountable for managing its own information assets by keeping them current, easily accessible, and consistent with Federal standards.    

(d) To the extent permitted by law, executive departments, agencies, and offices shall provide the Council such information, support, and assistance as the Council, through the Co-Chairs, may request.    

Sec. 7. Governance Coordinating Committee. The Council shall establish a Governance Coordinating Committee that shall consist of 18 officials from State, tribal, and local governments in accordance with the Final Recommendations. The Committee may establish subcommittees chaired by representatives of the Governance Coordinating Committee. These subcommittees may include additional representatives from State, tribal, and local governments, as appropriate to provide for greater collaboration and diversity of views.    

Sec. 8. Regional Advisory Committees. The lead Federal department, agency, or office for each regional planning body established for the development of regional coastal and marine spatial plans, in consultation with their nonfederal co-lead agencies and membership of their regional planning body, shall establish such advisory committees under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, 5 U.S.C. App., as they deem necessary to provide information and to advise the regional planning body on the development of regional coastal and marine spatial plans to promote the policy established in section 2 of this order.    

Sec. 9. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order, the establishment of the Council, and the Final Recommendations shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:    

  • (i) authority granted by law to an executive department or agency or the head thereof; or
  • (ii) functions assigned by the President to the National Security Council or Homeland Security Council (including subordinate bodies) relating to matters affecting foreign affairs, national security, homeland security, or intelligence.

(b) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.    

(c) In carrying out the provisions of this order and implementing the Final Recommendations, all actions of the Council and the executive departments, agencies, and offices that constitute it shall be consistent with applicable international law, including customary international law, such as that reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.    

(d) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.    

Sec. 10. Revocation. Executive Order 13366 of December 17, 2004, is hereby revoked.    

BARACK OBAMA     

THE WHITE HOUSE, July 19, 2010.    

     

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.  
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com   

U.S. Ocean Policy – out with the “COP” and in with the “NOC”

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Today at the White House the President signed an Executive Order establishing for the first time a National Ocean Policy for the United States. For several months agencies in the Executive side of government have seemed leery to move forward with tangible plans to effect the protection and restoration of our ocean and coastal resources.  Left with remnants of the Bush Administration’s ocean governance structure, and lacking a clear new set of labels and structures for the Obama Administration, paralysis became a policy for too many in the bureaucracy. But with the stroke of a pen today, President Obama put an end to any excuses for not pulling together and moving forward.  It is out with the “COP” (Commission on Ocean Policy) and in with the “NOC” (the National Ocean Council), and while an org tree analysis might now show much difference, those involved in the process think they have broken a logjam and we’re now headed in a new and better direction.

Whether the system is substantially different, or in reality mostly the same, it may turn out that it is the optimism of those in the game that may prove to be the deciding factor.

More analysis on the National Ocean Policy in my next post……

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

Written by Will Nuckols

July 19, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Advisory task force delivers its national ocean policy recommendations to the President

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Cover page of the Final Recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force Task Force report to the President

On July 19th the White House released the Final Recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force Task Force. President Obama is expected to except all the recommendations and instruct the agencies to adopt them in an anticipated Executive Order to be released at a later date.

 

Today the report provided to President Obama authored by the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force was released by the White House.  The report includes recommendations to the President on a course for our nation to establish a national ocean policy. The Task Force recommendations, a little more than a year in the making, are a deliverable of the group, established by the President in an Executive Order in June 2009. The press release announcing the report can be viewed at this LINK and a PDF of the report can be viewed HERE.  

According to the White House press release, “The Final Recommendations [contained in the Task Force’s report] are expected to be adopted into an Executive Order by President Obama.”  

The report recommends the President adopt the following national policy:  

It is the Policy of the United States to:  

• Protect, maintain, and restore the health and biological diversity of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources;  

• Improve the resiliency of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems, communities, and economies;  

• Bolster the conservation and sustainable uses of land in ways that will improve the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems;  

• Use the best available science and knowledge to inform decisions affecting the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes, and enhance humanity’s capacity to understand, respond, and adapt to a changing global environment;  

• Support sustainable, safe, secure, and productive access to, and uses of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes;  

• Respect and preserve our Nation’s maritime heritage, including our social, cultural, recreational, and historical values;  

• Exercise rights and jurisdiction and perform duties in accordance with applicable international law, including respect for and preservation of navigational rights and freedoms, which are essential for the global economy and international peace and security;  

• Increase scientific understanding of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems as part of the global interconnected systems of air, land, ice, and water, including their relationships to humans and their activities;  

• Improve our understanding and awareness of changing environmental conditions, trends, and their causes, and of human activities taking place in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes waters; and  

• Foster a public understanding of the value of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes to build a foundation for improved stewardship.  

   

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

Written by Will Nuckols

July 19, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Well cap has stopped the oil spill and appears to be holding. Much more to do but this is a promising start.

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The latest cap installed to control the oil leaking from the wellhead seems to be holding, and while it will require additional pressure tests to verify that the cap can continue to hold back the pressure from the well and contain the oil, today seems to be a good day to be an optimist.

Let’s keep our collective fingers crossed that this attempt, combined with the subsequent cementing that will come from the relief well which continues its drilling operations, will be the end of new material being emitted from this well.

This achievement, if it proves to be ultimately successful, is a great start, but we must remain mindful that stopping the oil flow is but one of the tasks to be quickly completed in the Gulf of Mexico.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.

Written by Will Nuckols

July 15, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Oil Spill Commission emphasizes its independence at its first public hearing in New Orleans

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Bob Graham and Bill Reilly respond to questions during a press conference during the second day of the Oil Spill Commission in New Orleans

Bob Graham and Bill Reilly respond to questions during a press conference during the second day of the President's Oil Spill Commission in New Orleans, LA. Photo by Will Nuckols 2010.

 

Today at the lunchtime press conference during the first meeting of the President’s Oil Spill Commission, Chairs Bill Reilly and Senator Bob Graham fielded questions from a range of local and national media.     

Questioned yesterday on the first day of the meeting about the intention of the Commission and whether they will focus on moratorium for deepwater drilling, the Commission chairs stated that they believed the issue of the moratorium would be handled best by the Administration, and that the Commission would be primarily forward-looking.     

Reilly stated that large part of the contribution of the Commission will stem from its findings on the future of oil drilling in the U.S. –  not just in the Gulf of Mexico, but also in other sensitive areas.  Reilly highlighted Alaska as one of those areas of concern.     

But today the Commission may have changed its approach just one day into its work. Noting the significant concern expressed by so many people on the moratorium – both concerns expressed by witnesses at the hearings, as well as by people the commissioners met during their trips to gulf communities over the weekend – Reilly stated that he has changed his mind about how much emphasis should be paid to the moratorium.     

While no commission findings have yet been made (the co-Chairs again emphasized that their commission is only two days old), there were pointed questions by Bob Graham about a blanket approach to shut down all 33 rigs. Graham likened the oil drilling moratorium to recalls in the airline business. He said that he had read about a Boeing aircraft window safety concern, when 12,000 planes needed to be inspected. Graham said, “I am sure they didn’t wait until inspecting the 12,000th plane before putting the first plane back in service.” Graham further questioned DOI’s blanket approach when asking “why can’t [DOI] do a rig by rig evaluation?”     

While these statements may be seen as Administration criticisms, I suspect this is exactly the independence that the President wanted when he set up the Commission. If they are to act as a commission of independent experts, examination of Administration decisions must be a part of the analysis if the Commission’s final recommendations are to be of the highest value to the President.     

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com 


It is the first meeting of the President’s oil spill commission here in New Orleans

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TV and newspapers interview the Oil Spill Commission in New Orleans

TV and print media interview the President's Oil Spill Commission this morning before the 2-day public meeting kicks off in New Orleans. Photo by Will Nuckols

 

It is Monday morning here at the Hilton Hotel in New Orleans, and the first meeting of the President’s oil spill commission has begun its work, starting the clock on the six-month time frame for a report to be provided to President Obama on the causes of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and recommendations on how offshore drilling should proceed in the future, given lessons learned from this spill.  

Even before the meeting began this morning, reporters were pressing Commission members for comments. Co-chair Bob Graham was asked pointed questions about the role of the Commission’s work and how the knowledge they are gaining will be applied to decisions about the administration moratorium on deepwater drilling.  

Senator Graham was quick to state that while the Commission is just starting its investigation, representatives from the Department of the Interior have been examining issues connected to the moratorium for some time.  Further pressed by reporters from AP and Reuters about whether the knowledge the Commission gains could be released in some sort of an interim report, Graham laid out several areas that will be investigated by both the Commission and also by DOI.  

1. Was the BP Deepwater Horizon accident and spill an outlier, or are the conditions that they experienced and the procedures on the Transocean  drill platform representative of procedures and difficulties experienced by other offshore drilling projects?  

2. Was the federal oversight, primarily MMS oversight, sufficient prior to the accident on the Deepwater Horizon? Post-reorganization at MMS, is it now sufficient?  

3. Was the drill site itself, from a perspective of geological forces, a particularly dangerous site?  How does that site compare with other sites where drilling is, or plans to occur, in the Gulf of Mexico?  

While DOI has been examining these issues for some time already, Graham stated that the Commission will share recommendations it develops as they become available.  

Graham was realistic about the Commission’s ability to provide detailed comment immediately. “DOI has been looking at this for some time, and we are meeting for the first time only today,”  

***additional posts from New Orleans will be made over the next three days as the commission meets and receives comments. Stay tuned…..  

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

Written by Will Nuckols

July 12, 2010 at 9:18 am