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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

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Written by Will Nuckols

December 2, 2010 at 11:23 pm

A few enviro agency blurbs from the White House 2011 budget

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Below are a few of the summaries for a handful of environmentally important agencies.  Analysis still pending……


DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE:
There will be an overall reduction of DOC’s budget to $9.1 billion to the agency, a 34.4 percent decline.
DOC/NOAA summary:
“Supports Improvements in Weather Forecasting, Climate Monitoring, Fisheries Management, and Ocean Programs. The Budget maintains continuity of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite coverage needed for monitoring weather and climate by providing over $2 billion to fund the development and acquisition of NOAA’s polar orbiting and geo-stationary weather satellite systems, satellite-borne measurements of sea level and other climate variables, and other space-based observations. The Budget supports enhancements to climate science and services, including improved modeling and assessments at global and regional levels. The Budget advances the President’s National Ocean Policy with funding for coastal zone management and planning, competitive grants in support of regional ocean partnerships, integrated ecosystem assessments, catch-share based fisheries management, and research on ocean acidification.”

The President proposes a budget increase for NOAA, increasing its 2010 budget of $4,853 million to a FY2011 level of $5,554 million.

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR:
A reduction from $12.15 billion in 2010 to $12.04 billion next year.

“Funding Highlights:

Promotes renewable energy development on Federal lands and waters with the goal of permitting at least 9,000 megawatts of energy capacity on Department of the Interior lands by the end of 2011.

Stays on track to fully fund Land and Water Conservation Fund programs by 2014 by providing nearly $620 million to acquire new lands for national parks, forests and refuges, protect endangered species habitat, and promote outdoor recreation.

Helps Federal land managers address the impact of climate change by expanding the Department’s science capability to develop vital decision support tools.

Improves the return to taxpayers from U.S. mineral production through royalty reforms and industry fees.

Strengthens Native American communities with funds to enhance the management capacity of tribal governments and improve coordination between Federal agencies on law enforcement.

Prepares responsibly for wildfires with full funding for suppression and a contingency reserve fund.

Promotes water conservation and science while balancing competing water resource needs.”

Notable summary highlights include:
“Establishes Climate Science Centers.
Managing ecosystems and wildlife habitat that are facing the impact of climate change requires reliable data on changes, supporting science, and tools to bring these together to inform land management decisions. DOI is establishing a framework, which includes Climate Science Centers that will focus on the impact of climate change on a broad array of Departmental resources. The Budget includes an increase of $14 million for these Centers to provide land managers with vital decision support tools based on the latest
science.”

“Conserves Landscapes and Ecosystems.
The Administration continues its commitment to acquire and conserve landscapes and ecosystems that lack adequate protection with increased funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The Budget provides an increase of $106 million, or 31 percent, for LWCF programs in DOI that protect Federal lands for wildlife and public enjoyment and provide State grants for park and recreational improvements.
Total LWCF funding for the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior is nearly $620 million, keeping the Administration on track to fully fund LWCF programs at $900 million by 2014. In addition, the Budget proposes to reauthorize and expand DOI’s authority under the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, so that the proceeds from the sale of low-conservation value lands may be used to acquire additional high-priority conservation lands.”

US Fish And Wildlife Service will have a modest reduction in funding from 1,647 million in 2010 to 1,642 million in 2011.

The National Park Service will experience a reduction from $2,791 million in 2010 to $2,759 in 2011.

USGS will see a budget increase of $21 million, up from its 2010 level of $1,112 million.

Minerals Management Service will see a $9 million increase to a FY2011 level of $190 million.

A list of additional agencies whose budgets have an impact on environmental and ocean issues will be coming soon….

13 mins and holding

Written by Will Nuckols

February 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Environmental news

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