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At this morning’s House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the oil spill, ethics where a major theme

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House Resources Committee Hearing 26 May 2010

The House Resources Committee Hearing was well attended by members, the press and the public

At this morning’s hearing at the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, following opening remarks from Chairman Rahall and Ranking Member Hastings, Secretary Salazar called for a changes to be supported by the House Resources to support two of Secretary Salazar’s main themes:

1. Reform is essential and

2. We need to move to a new energy frontier.

While little of the remarks provided details about new energy, as that topic has been the subject of several prior hearings, there was much discussion by Secretary Salazar and in questions from Chairman Rahall and Ranking Member Hastings about the topic of reform and ethics.

Salazar stated that reform efforts are not new, and that a reform agenda has been on his agenda since he started the job as Secretary of the Interior. In addition to the internal ethics committee investigations and training at DOI/MMS, Sec. Salazar emphasized that congressional action was also needed for reform to be effective. Salazar called for Congress to provide an “organic act” for the Minerals Management Service, and argued the importance of organic authorization for an agency that (a) collects $13 billion a year in funds from oil and gas development and (b) develops the offshore oil and gas resources in the U.S.

Nick Rahall House Resources Chairman 26 May 2010 Hearing

Congressman Nick Rahall is the Chair of the House Resources Committee

Chairman Rahall asked Secretary Salazar if splitting MMS into three parts address the ethics problems that have been highlighted in the Inspector General reports and have the ethics reform package that the Secretary sited really taken hold yet?

Salazar stated that we do think that organizational change is necessary. The reorganization will be moving to remove the revenue collectors and separate them from the leasing and inspection functions of MMS.

Ranking Member Hastings asked if there are people in MMS identified as doing the wrong things, have they been removed from the government payroll?  Salazar responded that if they have done something wrong that requires termination they have been terminated. And some have even been prosecuted and have gone to jail.

But Hastings responded that it is his understanding that some of these people are still on the job. The distinction between removed and still on the job may be because employees named by the IG have been placed on Administrative leave pending further examination of the issues.

While the back and forth about ethics concerns continued, what did not emerge in a concise form was a depiction of what reforms would be possible only through the passage of organic authorization language for MMS compared to what can be changed today based on the authority of the Secretary.

Labels of blame can be suspect in the world of politics, and as such perhaps an accurate analysis will only come in fits and spurts through the Congressional hearing processes. While quite valuable, this will not be our only avenue to determining the cause of the gulf oil spill and also providing recommendations for changes that should occur as we continue to produce oil and gas offshore in the U.S. Last Friday President Obama named a bipartisan commission, chaired by Bob Graham, former Senator and Governor from Florida, and Bill Reilly, the EPA Administrator under President Bush’s Administration. These two chairs, and the five additional Commission members yet to be named, may be our best chance for a balanced and independent review of offshore oil and gas production.

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

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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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