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Florida’s Senator Rubio proposes to prohibit all funding to make governing oceans and coasts more efficient

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Senator Marco Rubio image

Senator Marco Rubio is the Ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Ocean, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard – an important role for ensuring the efficient and effective management of our oceans and coasts. It is a disturbing early step by Senator Rubio in the 113th Congress to defund all programs addressed by E.O. 13547 which implement the National Ocean Policy, including those efforts to make ocean governance more efficient and cost effective.Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), has introduced an amendment to the 2013 continuing resolution – the bill which would fund the federal government for the remainder of FY2013 – which would trip away all funding used to implement items within President Obama’s Executive Order E.O. 13547.

For those only paying the minimal amount of attention to DC politics, cutting funding to implement an Obama Administration policy might seem like an effort to cut back on programs that Republicans see as wasteful and outside the intended reach of the federal government. However, this ham-handed approach not only would frustrate interests of the Obama Administration, it would greatly hamper efforts which Republicans regularly support – improved coordination to reduce waste and duplication in government programs.

Rubio’s amendment (#102 to bill H.R. 933) is a blunt legislative tool that could eliminate such things as multiagency coordination for marine debris cleanups (remember the 3-11 tsunami disaster?  We’re far from done addressing the aftermath of that event on our coasts and the mariners who operate on the open seas.), protection of our ever diminishing coral reef habitats, or any number of themes which fall across agency boundaries and require improved planning and coordination if the Executive side of government hopes to have any chance to unwind the overlapping policy responsibilities and corresponding budgets created by a patchwork of laws passed by Congress over the last 40 years.

There have been similar sloppy legislative efforts by Rep. Bil Flores (R-TX) to block all funding relating to the “national ocean policy” promoted by the Obama Administration, but this is the first time I’ve seen that the short sighted efforts  mirrored on the Senate side.

One can only hope that with time the junior Senator from Florida’s drafting of legislation will improve and address substantive issues, rather than blunt language replete with unintended consequences. As Senator Rubio holds a new position as ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, he is in great position to use the Committee’s professional staff to better understand the implications of language he introduces.

Florida is an important coastal state – important to the people of Florida and important to the nation. I hope that as the 113th Congress continues Senator Rubio takes the time to review the broad reaching impacts of legislation, even legislation as short as amendment #102 in the FY2013 continuing resolution.

Florida enjoys both the beauty and bounty of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Along with those resources comes a collection of issues that need addressing if Florida residents and the millions of visitors who enjoy her shores are going to be able to continue to seek pleasure and economic prosperity from the state’s coasts. A number of the challenges facing Florida today cross multiple federal agencies statutory areas of responsibility (not to mention significant overlap with state of county agencies) and are challenging to coordinate.

Eliminating funding for programs the Presidential Executive Order would use as tools to address some of those inefficiencies is short sighted and poorly crafted legislation.

The language of the Rubio amendment as introduced:

SA 102. Mr. RUBIO submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill H.R. 933, making appropriations for the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other departments and agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2013, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:

     At the appropriate place, insert the following:

    Sec. __. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be obligated or expended to carry out Executive Order No. 13547, relating to Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes.


The author of this blog is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

Hurricane Sandy relief bill passes Senate. Provides important aid but House R’s efforts to strip out $ for planning to rebuild survive.

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Tonight the Hurricane Sandy emergency funding bill from the House of Representatives H.R.152 : Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013, was taken up in the Senate with limited debate – quite limited. The bill passed the Senate with 62 votes, a bipartisan rare success in DC, with nine Republicans joining 53 Democrats.

NASA image of Hurricane Sandy

NASA satellite image of Hurricane Sandy which resulted in massive damage to coastal communities

The $50.5 billion aid package to help the region recover is now on its way to President Obama’s desk, but like much legislation that is drafted in DC, it isn’t perfect. Unlike some errors that appear in legislation which are the result of late night drafting under tight deadlines or simple inability to predict a changing set of future circumstances which result in unintended consequences, some problems with legislation are quite intentional, and the bill that passed today contains a very intentional problem.

Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas’s 14th district (Waco, College Park and nearby areas) has been adamant about defunding anything that comes through the House with connections to a wide-reaching set of plans to make government more efficient and improve the planning in our coastal and ocean waters. Those plans, crafted over a number of years by multiple bi-partisan commissions, were combined and announced during President Obama’s first year in office through an Executive Order which established the nation’s first National Ocean Policy.

Rep. Flores’ efforts to object to the President’s plans have thus far aimed at removing the funding for efforts to have more sensible planning occur in the U.S. coastal zone and ocean waters, and he’s been fairly successful in getting provisions added to House spending bills.  In the 112th Congress efforts to oppose the National Ocean Policy in the House were successful, but those successes met a quick end when Senate bills which lack such provisions run into the differing House language in Conference Committee. Ultimately the House language drops out…or it did in the 112th Congress.

To expedite the relief for victims of the Hurricane Sandy disaster Senate leadership fought to bring the House bill up for consideration with the minimum amendments possible. In fact only one Republican – Senator Mike Lee of Utah – had an amendment which was considered. That amendment proposed to fully offset the relief aid costs with cuts to discretionary funding, an amendment popular with Tea Party groups, but which fell well below the necessary 60 votes and failed 35-62.  That meant the Senate was voting on the House version of the bill as-is, including the provision from Rep. Flores to cut $150M in grant support for Regional Planning Bodies.

image of flooded taxis

Flooding resulted in economic losses and also damage to transportation infrastructure communities depend upon. Will we plan better for the next flooding event?

On the surface for those not immersed in governance issues for a living, the Flores amendment looks reasonable as it saves money by eliminating funds for NOAA pass-through funds which look to some to be unrelated to the disaster recovery. But to the informed the cuts which save $150M endanger the effectiveness of the $50.5B in federal dollars slated to flow to the region. The Regional Planning Bodies are structured with a membership that includes federal agencies, states and tribes, with input from a range of groups representing the private sector.  It is precisely that sort of broad membership which would be well positioned to discuss not simply how to rebuild what was lost, but how to make it better and most importantly in the context of disaster response, how to make what is rebuilt more resilient.

Whether Rep. Flores’ efforts are simply naive penny wise pound foolish, or whether they are a calculated effort to frustrate President Obama’s efforts to govern at every available turn is unclear. But what is clear is that $50.5B is a major federal investment, and we can only hope the federal agencies, states, tribes and localities can find ways not prohibited by the legislation to collaborate and rebuild in a coordinated way that is mindful of our changing climatic conditions. We need policies and practices that mitigate a changing climate with a systematic approach to adaptation, not a piecemeal approach that leaves some communities much better planned while others are left unnecessarily in harm’s way. The $150M that was cut from the $50.5B package made just such a well crafted response a bit harder.

The author of this blog is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

Rep. Bill Flores, R-TX, opposes Obama ocean policies and strips $150M from Hurricane Sandy relief bill

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The first attack in the 113th Congress on President Obama’s ocean policy, which include strengthening regional partnerships through the assistance of federal grants, was filed by ongoing opponent to the President’s National Ocean Policy, Rep. Bill Flores (Republican from a landlocked district in Texas).

image of Rep. Bill Flores

Rep. Bill Flores, former oil and gas driller from the Waco, TX area consistently opposes anything that is related to the President’s National Ocean Policy. His amendment to the Hurricane Sandy Relief strips 150K in funding for regional ocean partnerships.

House Amendment 6 to the House version of H.R.152 : Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013 (aka Hurricane Sandy relief), reads as follows:

An amendment numbered 2 printed in Part C of House Report 113-1 to strike $150,000,000 for Regional Ocean Partnership grants.”

On January 15, 2013 the Flores amendment (A004) was agreed to by recorded vote: 221 – 197 (Roll no. 16)

The votes for and against are listed below.

On Monday afternoon of January 28, 2013, the Senate plans to take up the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013, with only one amendment expected to be introduced – Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah has proposed an amendment that would offset the $50.5 billion in emergency aid (lawmakers are expected to reject that amendment), allowing final passage of the Senate bill later Monday night. No Senate amendments to oppose the House language and reinstate the Regional Ocean Partnership grants are anticipated.

inage of map of Congressional District 17 in Texas

Rep. Bill Flores represents the 17th Congressional District in Texas, an area south of Dallas that includes Waco and College Station. His dogged opposition to President Obama’s National Ocean Policy seems odd, given his district’s geography, until the fact emerges that in 2005 prior to coming to Congress Flores served on served on board of Phoenix Exploration Company, Marine Drilling Companies, Inc.  Offshore oil drilling companies generally prefer the status quo, and as such oppose President Obama’s efforts to create a system that rationally and openly determines which of the conflicting offshore uses are most in the national interest.

When looking to the motivations of those who oppose changes to the current first-come-first-served irrational way we currently permit offshore uses in the USA, allegiances to the traditional users (extractive industries such as oil and gas production or mining) or the new users (green energy such as wind and wave power) of the coasts are worth examining.

According to the homepage for Rep. Flores at http://flores.house.gov, Flores “worked in the energy industry for nearly three decades. During that time, he served as a CFO, COO or CEO for successful energy companies, ultimately serving as President and CEO of Phoenix Exploration Company, an oil and gas company focused upon the discovery of American oil and gas.”

The author of this blog is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

*the original article headline mistakenly indicated a $150K cut in funding, while the article noted correctly the cuts were $150M. The headline has been corrected to match the content of the article.

FINAL VOTE RESULTS FOR ROLL CALL 16, Flores Amendment to strip funding for Regional Ocean Partnerships

(Republicans in roman; Democrats in italic; Independents underlined)

H R 152      RECORDED VOTE      15-Jan-2013      6:39 PM
AUTHOR(S):  Flores of Texas Part C Amdt. No. 2 to Frelinghuysen of New Jersey Amdt.
QUESTION:  On Agreeing to the Amendment


















—- AYES    221 —

Bishop (UT)
Brady (TX)
Brooks (AL)
Brooks (IN)
Broun (GA)
Collins (GA)
Collins (NY)
Davis, Rodney
Duncan (SC)
Duncan (TN)
Franks (AZ)
Gingrey (GA)
Graves (GA)
Graves (MO)
Green, Gene
Griffin (AR)
Griffith (VA)
Hastings (WA)
Heck (NV)
Herrera Beutler
Huizenga (MI)
Johnson (OH)
Johnson, Sam
King (IA)
Kinzinger (IL)
McCarthy (CA)
McMorris Rodgers
Miller (FL)
Miller (MI)
Miller, Gary
Murphy (PA)
Poe (TX)
Price (GA)
Rice (SC)
Roe (TN)
Rogers (AL)
Rogers (KY)
Rogers (MI)
Ryan (WI)
Scott, Austin
Smith (NE)
Smith (TX)
Thompson (PA)
Weber (TX)
Webster (FL)
Wilson (SC)
Young (AK)
Young (IN)

—- NOES    197 —

Bishop (GA)
Bishop (NY)
Brady (PA)
Braley (IA)
Brown (FL)
Brownley (CA)
Carson (IN)
Castor (FL)
Castro (TX)
Davis (CA)
Davis, Danny
Frankel (FL)
Green, Al
Hastings (FL)
Heck (WA)
Johnson, E. B.
King (NY)
Larsen (WA)
Larson (CT)
Lee (CA)
Lujan Grisham (NM)
Luján, Ben Ray (NM)
Maloney, Carolyn
Maloney, Sean
McCarthy (NY)
Miller, George
Murphy (FL)
Pastor (AZ)
Peters (CA)
Peters (MI)
Pingree (ME)
Price (NC)
Ryan (OH)
Sánchez, Linda T.
Sanchez, Loretta
Scott (VA)
Scott, David
Sewell (AL)
Smith (NJ)
Smith (WA)
Swalwell (CA)
Thompson (CA)
Van Hollen
Wasserman Schultz
Wilson (FL)
Young (FL)

—- NOT VOTING    14 —

Jackson Lee
Johnson (GA)
Negrete McLeod
Thompson (MS)

A policy for the U.S.’s oceans and coasts: the Obama plan vs. an empty (beach) chair?

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Where do most of the people live in the United States?  Coastal states.  What part of America has played an indispensable role in America’s economy since colonial times? The oceans and coasts. So even with just those two reasons alone how could any politician make a run for the Presidency without taking the time to put forth careful thought about how to address our oceans and coasts and their resources which are so important to America’s well being?

empty beach chairs

EMPTY BEACH CHAIRS. Where was the Romney-Ryan campaign when they were asked about their plans for managing our oceans and coasts? Weeks after the Obama Campaign responses detailing its plans, Blue Frontier Campaign founder David Helvarg did his best to guess what Mitt Romney would do based on the Governor’s history in Massachusetts.

Barack Obama’s campaign released a statement about its intentions regarding oceans and coasts for its second term – hardly a surprise given the Obama Administration’s early commitment to establishing a national ocean policy early in the first term, but surprisingly, while they were given many weeks to match the Obama campaign with a response of their own, the Mitt Romney campaign never produced a policy statement on this important part of the nation’s public policy.

The Blue Frontier Campaign, whose mission it is to bring together the approximately 2,000 “blue groups” and agencies it says work on ocean and coastal conservation, sent an inquiry to both campaigns this fall, but only Obama’s Campaign responded. The inquiry entitled “60 Ocean Leaders call on President Obama and Governor Romney to protect the Blue in our red, white and blue” can be found at THIS LINK.

David Helvarg, author and founder of the Blue Frontier Campaign, does an admiral job working to guess what policies might Mitt Romney put forward, based on scant information from the the Governor’s policies in Massachusetts and a few blurbs from Campaign speeches. Does Mr. Helvarg get it right or do the Massachusetts policies on things like marine spatial planning (deciding what activity goes where offshore) mean little if Mr. Romney goes to D.C.? I’ll leave it to the reader to sift through those tea leaves on their own, but what is clear is that Romney’s campaign did little to make a first step into national policy area concerning our oceans and coasts when they failed completely to express an opinion at all in the 2012 race for President.

Mr. Helvarg’s Blue Frontier Campaign press release is included below in its entirely.  The Obama Campaign’s response to Mr. Helvarg’s inquiry is included in the release.


Contact: David Helvarg Blue Frontier Campaign (510) 778-8470 or cell (202) 491-6296

Obama and Romney speak out on America’s Ocean.

In Tuesday night’s debate America’s environment and climate crisis went unnoted as did our largest wilderness frontier and a major driver of our economy, our public seas.  America’s ocean waters that provide recreation, transportation, trade, energy, protein and security were mentioned only in the context of offshore drilling.

However, 60 Ocean Leaders in conservation, exploration, science and business have called on President Obama and Governor Romney to explain what they plan to do to protect the Blue in our red, white and blue.  For the content of that letter please go to:


The letter’s signatories have gotten a response from the Obama campaign but to date have not received an expected one from the Romney campaign.  However several of the Governor’s positions can be ascertained based on his public record.

Below is the statement from President Obama’s Re-election Campaign –

“President Obama is committed to ensuring that our nation’s vast natural resources are used responsibly, and that we maintain healthy oceans and coasts.  By establishing a National Ocean Policy, he made it a priority of the federal government to ensure a proactive approach to improving the conservation of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes. 

 President Obama is directing additional funding to Gulf Coast restoration to further bring back the fisheries and coastal ecosystems which are still recovering in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill.  He kicked off the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the largest investment in the Great Lakes in two decades, which is targeting ecological problems such as invasive species, toxic hot spots, and pollution runoff. And his administration is cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, establishing a “pollution diet” for the Bay that will help restore the natural habitat for fish and other wildlife. They have also invested over $1.4 billion in Everglades’ restoration, helping restore tens of thousands of acres which will serve as a sanctuary for native Florida plants and wildlife. And under President Obama, we have created or enhanced more than 540 public coastal recreation areas, protected more than 54,000 acres of coastlines and restored over 5,200 acres of coastal habitat. The administration is also investing more in monitoring our fishing stock in coastal areas in order to have the most accurate data possible on the health of our fisheries. These are significant steps that are helping us improve the health of our oceans and build more robust fisheries.”

 Governor Romney has also spoken about his approach to America’s ocean waters first as Governor of Massachusetts and more recently as candidate for President.

 As Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney pioneered legislation making it the first state in the nation to put in place a comprehensive statewide planning process to assess new projects proposed for state ocean waters.  He noted the critical need to safeguard the state’s coastal waters from unregulated new uses, noting significant gaps in state and federal authority to permit offshore uses and lease open space.  “The only way to protect our beautiful ocean environment is with comprehensive ocean zoning reform,” he said.  He created an ocean management task force in 2003 comprised of a broad range of stakeholders, including environmental groups, regulators and the fishing industry.  

 In the 2012 Presidential campaign Mitt Romney has called for more state input and control over oil & gas energy leasing in federal outer continental shelf (OCS) waters.  He has pledged to “establish the most robust five-year offshore lease plan in history, that opens new areas for resource development – including off the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas – and sets minimum production targets to increase accountability.”

The author if this blog is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

Written by Will Nuckols

November 5, 2012 at 10:10 pm

54.5 MPG saves trillions of $ and addresses ocean carbon problem

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We’ve heard many times that the oceans are imperiled by increasing CO2 in the atmosphere from fossil fuel consumption, and how that CO2 is acidifying the waters of the world, making things like growing oysters increasingly difficult, but what those in the ocean community have been lacking is a solution – perhaps because we too often look to coastal and ocean areas for solutions to what are actually global problems.

Obama Administration Report: Driving Efficiency: Cutting Costs for Families at the Pump and Slashing Dependence on Oil

Obama Administration Report released July 29, 2011: Driving Efficiency: Cutting Costs for Families at the Pump and Slashing Dependence on Oil

To a seemingly increasing number of ocean problems (CO2, marine debris, excessive nutrient inputs) the problems, and many of the solutions, stem from land.  Today President Obama announced a solution to one of the causes of ocean stress – automobiles and their associated fuel consumption.


While the price of gas lately has been driving consumer choices in automobiles has shown an increased interest in more efficient vehicles, including hybrids, vehicle designs have not been moving fast enough based on consumer demand alone to cause a reaction by the auto manufactures to dramatically increase fuel efficiency on their own. Sometimes government needs to provide a nudge to get things moving quicker.  When is government interference justified? When the market isn’t providing signals that moves industry in a direction that is aligned with the national interest of the country, and SAFE standards have proven in the past that government has play an important, healthy role in providing a predictable playing field for the auto industry.

In a clear sign that the auto industry was on board with Administration plans to increase fuel economy, The President was joined by Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo  when President Obama today announced a historic agreement with thirteen major automakers to pursue the next phase in the Administration’s national vehicle program.

Fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025 – that’s nearly a doubling of the current fuel economy.

oysters on the half shell

If you love oysters - either to eat them or for their value in the ecosystem - today's fuel economy anouncement is good news for you

The connection to Oceans?  These programs will dramatically cut the oil we consume, saving a total of 12 billion barrels of oil, and by 2025 reduce oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day.  And where there’s oil savings there is savings in carbon too – and according to the Administration report’s figures they will be cutting more than 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas over the life of the program – more than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States last year.

If the EPA and NHTSA plans generate the savings they are projecting, American drivers will save $1.7 trillion dollars in fuel costs, and lessen the CO2 emissions that threaten ocean life down to the most basic part of the food chain.

So consider today a good say for the American pocket book and a good day for plankton, shellfish and the people who appreciate those creature, seafood, and oceans in general.

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 29, 2011 at 2:52 pm

EPA’s budget winners and losers identified by Administrator Lisa Jackson

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At today’s press conference Lisa Jackson, EPA’s top official, provided a snapshot of some of the cuts and the budget increases within EPA’s proposed FY2012 budget, released by the White House this morning.

Lisa Jackson, EPA

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson lead today's press teleconference on the release of the President's budget request for EPA programs in FY2012.

With an overall proposed cut of $1.4 billion from the EPA budget for FY2012, to no one’s surprise there are programs taking fairly big hits. With reductions in aid to severely cash strapped states ($950M reduction in the state revolving fund, which is slightly offset by an increase of $85M in State and Tribal assistance) the rippling effect is likely quite significant. How groups like the National Governor’s Association and the National Association of Counties (known by many as NACO) will react to the pass through of EPA funds being severely curtailed will be an early indication of the pushback to the dysfunction in government at all levels that could result from significant cuts during a time of a slow economy.

Also on the losers list are the Great Lakes, with a $125M cut to a program that was heralded as a successful federal-state partnership. But if you like your water a bit saltier and you live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed things are a little less gloomy – the EPA plans to keep up the pressure on the states VA, MD, PA and the District of Columbia to enact long overdue changes and finally clean up the Chesapeake Bay.  EPA will even back this up with an actual increase in federal funding with $17.4M of new funding flowing to the Chesapeake Bay in 2012.

The Administration’s budget sets out to protect other Administration priorities, such as control of greenhouse gas emissions from major sources.  The President is asking for “moderate increases” in programs that move forward the implementation of EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions rules that were issued in January.

Other environmental programs have no hidden upside.  Funding for the EPA Superfund program is cut, with a realization that cleanup at these environmental disaster hotspots will occur “at a slower rate” that historic funding levels have allowed.  For those that have lived alongside these toxic disaster areas, many of which have been very slow to be cleaned up, slower than slow is hard to wrap your head around.

The press conference ended with a series of questions centering around the implication to EPA if the Republican Continuing Resolution bill for the remainder of 2011 is enacted (the federal government is currently only funded through early March). No direct responses were given but it was clear that EPA will work to oppose funding proposals which will undermine their ability to protect the American people. The next two weeks on Capital Hill will be the battleground on where FY2011 spending is fought, and the outcome of that battle may prove to be a more heated battle than the FY2012 budget proposal by the President because of the pending shutdown of the government in just a few weeks.

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

February 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm

President’s FY2012 Budget hits the Web this morning at 10:30 A.M. Republican response TBD.

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The Administration’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget is now up on the web, with a link to the 216 page document available via the OMB website at White House.gov.

A series of agency budget briefings are being held today and later this week which will provide further insight into the details of the budget.
cover of the President's FY2012 Budget

The President's proposal for the FY2012 budget was released on the morning of February 14th

A press release from the Republican Leadership is targeted to be out later this afternoon (circa 2:30), but rather than a more detailed plan to counter the President’s proposal as was once proposed, details are believed to be scant in the Republican response on this day, with a Majority staff member from the House Budget office expecting a more complete Republican counter proposal to come out in about a month, following meetings of the House Budget Committee. 

With the House Appropriations Committee Mjority Staff saying they hadn’t heard of a timeline for a response and to check with Leadership, and staff in Speaker John Boehner’s office tossing out multiple options such as “check the Politico website – I think the link to the document is there” to “our response is on OMB.gov” and finally likely the most accurate answer which was  “Check Paul Ryan’s [Budget] Committee – they probably know” one thing is clear – advanced coordination for the Republican response to the President’s budget release is not proceeding smoothly. The next 24 hours will indicate whether the Speaker’s office can reign in the confusion and provide a quick budget rebuttal or whether a typical process of budget hearings will mark a more normal budget planning process in the House.

 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

February 14, 2011 at 10:51 am

Will the earmark ban result in unprecedented control over federal spending by the President?

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image of U.S. Currency by William Nuckols

The ban on Congressional earmarks doesn't necessarily mean a smaller or better budgeting process, but it does mean a change in who controls the fine details of how U.S. taxpayer’s money will be spent by the federal government

The ban on earmarks by the House, the President, and now the Senate means that having agency budget requests right-sized is of ever increasing importance. Typically while some attention is paid to the President’s budget, the proposal is most often looked at as a starting place with a ballpark number for what the Executive believes will need to accomplish its agencies’ missions. But fine tuning for what specifically the agencies will  do with the funds Congress appropriates is often not that closely scrutinized, as Congress, through the earmark process, has been able to ensure that specific projects receive a defined allocation out of an agency’s overall budget allocation.

Now, with earmarks off of the table, the executive side of government just took a leap forward in power.

This means that not only will pet projects in Congressional Members’ home districts which aren’t widely supported nationally – but which were important to incumbents being reelected – be taken off the table, but Congresses’ budget authority in general is reduced.

If a federal agency was reluctant to allocate resources to one particular statutory responsibility because they had priorities elsewhere, earmarks could serve as a budgetary correction, forcing an agency to address Congress’s wishes at a much finer resolution than at the huge budget block level.

Whether Congress finds a way to continue to try to control the budget at a detailed level through alternative processes such as an expansion of detailed bill report language, or whether the President will be allowed latitude to implement his administration’s vision of their own priorities will pay out over the next several months as agencies’ budget hearings begin in the 112th Congress.

What workarounds to the earmark ban will Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky) employ to maintain their power and oversight role? No one has tipped their hand so far.

This will be quite the interesting policy experiment.

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

February 2, 2011 at 9:00 am

If you find the Salmon reference in the State of the Union funny, the environmental field is replete with more comedy material

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picture of a wild coho salmon

In President Obama's State of the Union Address he used the oddity of Salmon being an issue covered by both the US Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA as an area of obvious duplication and inefficiency in government. The President named just that one example, but the numbers of others are almost too many to list.

Tonight in the State of the Union address President Obama cited the fact that both NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service both consider salmon as a part of their jurisdiction as a favorite example of his when he thinks about government reform and the need for a more efficient government.

If one is enjoying the salmon humor, but are are looking for yet another area of multiple jurisdictions overlapping in the federal government, an easy topic to research is the field of wetlands – their protection and restoration.  In the second half of the Bush (43) Administration a group of agencies came together, under the leadership of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to determine who was working on President’s 3-million acre wetlands goal, to track their progress, and examine the budgets of those same agencies whose activities would be key to President Bush achieving his goal. After more than a little digging the authors of the report on the progress toward the goal had copious amounts of budget and performance data pouring in from seemingly everywhere, and even though it seemed that we’d turned over every rock, another multi-million dollar program would be found and have to be included in the calculations. This happened numerous times. I know because I was there – crunching the budget and performance numbers week after week as more information arrived in bits and pieces. An optimistic policy analyst might think that finding the money would be easy, especially since we agreed not to even consider funds of less than a few numbered thousand. And since OMB was a part of the workgroup, this would be especially easy given that OMB is the President’s accountant – right?  Wrong.  Really, really wrong.  Budget planning is a fairly stovepiped process, both on the Hill in the Legislature and in the Executive branch. Common theme items rarely get compared within a single budget block, and almost never get coordinated across multiple budget blocks. The work is too difficult and time consuming and administration after administration has shrugged their shoulders and allowed a somewhat chaotic budget planning process to continue.

President Bush's Conserving Americas Wetlands Report

In 2005 President Bush's wetlands report had the unintended consequence of unearthing the multitude of agencies who all work on the same topic - wetlands.

But wait – there’s the 2005 wetlands report now, and the reports like it that were produced for the next three years.  Surely once the information was readily available we’d start using that information to proactively plan a coordinated budget. That might seem likely to some, but in Washington, D.C. budget coordination is usually labeled as crosscut budget planning, and budget analysts, understanding the workload that comes with crosscut budgets, stay as far away from that sorts of analysis whenever possible. With no specific mandate to do crosscut budget planning, or even the lower bar of  “joint budget presentations,” status quo processes continue. It may seem odd to those outside of DC that even joint budget presentations, where no advance planning is performed, but there a document that connects the dots for the sake of the legislature, also fails to be produced.  The failure resides in two places:  The Administration, for not allocating the incremental additional staff who would be needed to produce a joint budget presentation, and also Congress, for not asking the Executive branch to produce a budget proposal that optimally helps Congress make informed decisions.

We have a  long way to go on government efficiency, but perhaps the President’s funny reference to Salmon will stick in people’s heads, and both the Administration and the Hill will both take the process of budget planning a good deal more seriously than their predecessors.

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

January 25, 2011 at 10:53 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.    


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