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Archive for December 2010

2010 Census and Congress: As people move to the south and the coast, influence will be changing

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The 2010 Census numbers are out, and today the Department of Commerce released the data showing the impact on reapportionment in Congress for the next Congressional race.  Given my interests in all things ocean oriented, it is only natural for me to examine the implications on coastal states – and when I say “coastal” I am focusing on the salty coasts.

Generally speaking, people are moving south and they are moving to the coasts. Texas has a huge jump, gaining 4 seats, and Florida is the next biggest winner gaining two.  In all, if you leave aside our coast to the north that we share with Canada (Great Lakes), the coastal states are poised to gain 4 seats on the whole. Whether this means more political influence will get directed to coastal issues, or whether it simply means more people on the coast will result in even more stress on our coastal ecosystems, or some of both, remains to be seen.

But gains in seats aside, looking at the map one becomes hard pressed to understand why coastal issues struggle to be a major part of Congress’s portfolio given the representation in the House.  Texas, Florida and California combined will have 126 seats between just those three coastal states. What we need to do is make “coastal issues” increasingly relevant to the voting public and the elected officials if the ocean portfolio of issues is to move forward.

map of 2010 Cencus apportionment impats on Congress
There’s winners and losers, and trends to be sure.  And one of the policy implications of reapportionment will be on how coastal and ocean issues fare in future Congressional cycles.
For those of you who don’t recall how many seats each state had for the last decade and therefore can’t easily see how many seats were added or lost, here’s a quick breakdown:

States gaining seats in the House of Representatives

States losing seats in the House of Representatives

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

December 21, 2010 at 2:15 pm

With the Omnibus process looking all but hopeless, a series of Continuing Resolutions seems likely

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photo of Seantor Harry Reid who failed to find the votes to close debate on the 2011 federal spending bill. A serioes of Continuing Resolutions (CR's) are expedted to keep the federal government limping along through FY2011.

Senator Harry Reid fails to find the votes to close debate on the 2011 federal spending bill. A series of Continuing Resolutions (CR's) are expected to keep the federal government limping along through FY2011.

Senator Inouye’s Omnibus spending bill failed last week, leaving Congress to pass a short Continuing Resolution that runs through today.  With the likely outcome of today’s negotiations resulting in yet another CR for FY2011 extending the federal budget for but just a few more months, the mayhem that having an uncertain federal budget for FY2011 causes in the agencies will continue, with major inefficiencies and little work being accomplished by federal agencies this year as a result.

Chairman Inouye’s statement on the failure of the omnibus spending bill, due to a threat by Republicans to filibuster the bill and a failure of Senator Harry Reid to secure 60 votes for cloture, is a worthwhile read.

Federal environmental agencies, once optimistic due to pro-environment statements by both the Administration and the Hill, now must question how they will operate with a reduced, and potentially significantly reduced, budget in the future.

With the CR that would extend FY2010 levels through March likely to pass today, much work will need to be done to determine what, if any, progress in improving our nation’s environment will be practical or possible in 2011.

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

December 21, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Senate Omnibus spending bill was dropped on Tuesday

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 With 3/4 of FY2011 still before us, the question of how much funding the federal agencies will have to address ocean issues is still in doubt.  With the House already passing a year-long Continuing Resolution (CR), the decision on the FY2011 federal budget has been passed to the hands of the Senate.  Senator Inouye, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has indicated his strong support for an Omnibus spending bill rather than a CR, noting that rubber stamping last year’s budget isn’t the best policy.

Senator Daniel Inouye, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman

Senator Daniel Inouye, Appropriations Committee Chairman, dropped his 1924 page spending bill on Tuesday in the Senate. Vote to suspend further debate may occur as early as this weekend.

“While I appreciate the work that the House has done in producing a full year Continuing Resolution, I do not believe that putting the government on autopilot for a full year is in the best interest of the American people,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii).

For too many years Congress has, in my opinion, shirked one of their most important duties – to provide a federal budget the reflects the policy priorities of the nation.  While a jumbo-sized bill that conbines 12 individual spending bills, each themselves a huge chunk of the federal budget, is far from ideal policy, as it is indeed hard to get your head around a 1,924 page piece of legislation, but it beats the alternative of saying….uh, lets just do what we did last year (as if FY2010’s budget was optimized for that year’s needs, much less the policy realities of FY2011).

 “The substitute amendment I introduce today represents the bipartisan work of the Committee.  The twelve bills included in this package fulfill the Congress’ most basic responsibility, to exercise the power of the purse.  As an example, who among us believes we should base our spending recommendations for defense, homeland security and veterans on whatever level was needed last year.” Senator Daniel Inouye.

The larger public policy question of whether it is better to pass a new budget with the input of Congress each year or whether the best we can do is “ditto” to prior year’s efforts aside, Is the Omnibus bill better at providing more funding, or more appropriately targeted funding, for FY2011 than the House’s CR?  Further analysis remains to be done on the Omnibus bill to answer that question, but one thing is clear: if there is a reason to push for, or against, the Senate’s Omnibus process, the environmental community had better act fast if they hope to have any relevancy in that discussion.  With a vote for cloture on the bill believed to be targeting Sunday for a vote, there is but a scant few days to get organized and make a difference.  Inouye will need 60 votes to move his bill to a vote. It’s time for the ocean community to dig through the Omnibus language and determine if and how they will support the Appropriation Chairman’s efforts.

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




Oil Spill Commission’s Bob Graham questions DOI’s competency in collecting royalties

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image of senator Bob Graham, Oil Spill Commission chairman

Senator Bob Graham, Commission Chairman, questions DOI's role as the collector of funds from leases, instead preferring the Department of the Treasury

Today at a meeting of the Oil Spill Commission meeting in Washington, retired Senator and Commission Chairman Bob Graham questioned DOI’s competency in collecting federal funds for leases on federal or tribal lands across the board. Citing both the mishandling of finds from the BIA trust, as well as the inappropriate influence of DOI income on offshore lease decisions, he tipped his hand and indicated his preference that the U.S. Department of the Treasury is a better place to receive the royalties from leases on U.S. federal and tribal lands. His point was related to the need to avoid conflicts of interest in decision making when analyzing the sale of oil and gas leases.

But then when discussions returned to the views of staff and the full Commission, it became clear that reform at DOI was focused solely on leasing for offshore waters and that their recommendations did not look to onshore oil and gas or other revenue generating leases, for example those for mineral rights.

What is lacking is an examination of internal conflicts that exist within DOI in a general sense. After all, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is located within DOI and is responsible for the protection of U.S. wildlife resources, including even select marine mammals such as manatees and sea otters. And DOI regularly works to balance the comments of the USFWS when conducting leases on U.S. lands held, for instance, by BLM. Does that process work well, or is it too flawed and in need of revision, thereby showing a systematic problem within the Department?

Much dialogue at the hearings today focused on staff recommendations, and concerns of Commissioners, who are concerned about DOI’s seeming habitual lack of attention to comments provided by NOAA during the NEPA consultation process as it related to oil and gas sales.

The analysis would be improved if there was a critique of whether economic or environmental concerns, or an appropriate balance of both factors, tend to rule the day when DOI provides leases for right to U.S. owned natural resources.

Is it that DOI habitually downplays the importance of ecological concerns? Or is it a cultural bias of decreased attention being paid to comments coming from agencies outside of DOI such as NOAA, which resides within the Department of Commerce?

When contemplating reorganization within DOI and the oil and gas lease process understanding the pros and cons of voices stemming from within DOI bureaus as compared to comments from outside of DOI is crucial information if optimal recommendations for future oil and gas lease processes are to be made.

An accurate depiction of the role of DOI in lease decisions in a general sense would have provided a useful lens to look through as the Oil Spill Commission considers the specific quirks of leasing in offshore waters. However, if the Commission does unearth an improved process for how DOI should consider environmental information when it reviews lease proposals, but fails to expand the recommendation to a systematic DOI-wide change, it would do a disservice to the American people who funded the multi-million dollar Commission budget.  And as importantly, it would exacerbate the oddities of how on-land, near-shore and deep-water leasing decisions are being made. Especially given the realities of changing drilling technologies, such as in Alaska when oil companies are proposing to essentially constructing new gravel islands to conduct their drilling activities from, thereby putting their drilling application into one type of review process for land-based drilling, even though the directional drilling proposed would extract the oil and gas resources from offshore locations, a holistic view of oil and gas development is needed. To look broadly is not to step beyond the Commission’s mandate, but rather to use this window in time to optimize the public policy process in a rational way that the public and industry can see as logical and systematic. If we only examine how the balancing of environmental, economic and safety concerns are addressed in deep-water drilling offshore, while ignoring other oil and gas permitting processes within DOI, is to further exacerbate the current system where best practices are applied to only some areas of the nation, leaving others with a sub-optimized leasing and oversight regime.

The National Oil Spill Commissioners deliberates on preliminary findings related to the root causes of the BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster and options to guard against and mitigate the impacts of future spills on Thurs., Dec. 2nd (9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) and  Fri., Dec. 3rd(9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) at 1777 F St. NW in Washington D.C.

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

December 2, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Does the System of Subcontractors in the Oil and Gas Industry Invite Finger Pointing?

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Back on August 25, 2010 I testified before the President’s Oil Spill Commission on August 25, 2010 in Washington, D.C. about subcontractors in the Oil and Gas industry, and whether this system which seems to invite finger pointing, is good for the United States. 

A clip of the testimony can be seen here.

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

December 2, 2010 at 10:16 pm