Program Update: Advocacy – June 2011
President Obama declared June 2011 National Ocean’s Month to remind the nation of the importance of the oceans to our heritage, national security, and economic vitality. Due to this, the month was filled with ocean-related activities, including the introduction of several bills related to the ocean, various Congressional hearings, activities to advance the National Ocean Policy, efforts to restore the Gulf of Mexico post-oil spill, and Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW).
Several bills were introduced in the past month aimed at expediting oil and renewable energy permitting processes. HR 2021 (Jobs and Energy Permitting Act), introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), was passed through the House on June 22, 2011 (253-166) and will be considered by the Senate. The purpose of this bill is to amend the Clean Air Act to perform air quality assessments associated with drilling operations from concurrent onshore locations, in order to exclude those emissions from drilling rigs themselves. The bill also requires the EPA to accept or deny permit applications no later than six months after applications have been received. Hearings were also held on June 16, 2011 in the House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources to discuss draft bill HR 2150 (National Petroleum Reserve Alaska Access Act). The bill was introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) for the purpose of amending the 1976 Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act to allow both exploration and lease sales of regions in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A).
Four Republican-endorsed bills were introduced in mid-June to expedite the generation and implementation of renewable energy projects. HR 2170 (Cutting Federal Red Tape to Facilitate Renewable Energy Act) sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), HR 2171 (Exploring for Geothermal Energy on Federal Lands Act) sponsored by Rep. Paul Labrador (R-ID), HR 2172 (Utilizing America’s Federal Lands for Wind Energy Act) sponsored by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), and HR 2173 (Advancing Off-Shore Wind Production Act) sponsored by Rep. Robert Wittman (R-VA), are intended to streamline permit processes ─ by reducing the public comment periods on potential projects and by limiting the number of alternatives that may be introduced ─ to allow for faster generation and implementation of renewable energy projects. House Republicans backed the bills, saying streamlining the processes associated with getting these projects off the ground will help create jobs in this sector and expand renewable energy development on Federal lands. Democrats and witnesses from the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Wilderness Society questioned some elements of the legislation, including the reduction of public comment periods and lack of funds available to endorse projects, which they believe would lead to a decrease in the amount of approved projects rather than enhancing the number of permits for renewable energy production.
Over the course of the last month, both the House and the Senate continued to debate the lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Two hearings were held to discuss legislation and oversight of programs aimed at restoring resources in the Gulf region. On June 8, 2011, a markup session was held to discuss S. 183 (Deepwater Horizon Survivors’ Fairness Act), a bill introduced by Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV) aimed at increasing the scope of compensation for those affected by the spill. The legislation was passed out of the Senate Commerce committee and will move on for consideration by the full Senate. On June 28, 2011, the Senate Environment and Public Works, Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife held an oversight hearing to discuss the progress of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA), initiated in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA said they are working on initial assessments of damage in order to more effectively determine how to move forward with implementation. Dr. Donald Boesch of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Off-Shore Drilling said the Commission advised continued transparency and “long-term monitoring of the affected resources.” He also said that the natural resources and the communities that rely on them should be “made whole to the fullest extent possible.” Dr. Margaret Leinen on behalf of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI) spoke about the research the Initiative is doing to “provide valuable insight” on how the “rich and dynamic environmental system is recovering.” She also stated that she hopes this information will be useful to accomplishing the goals of NRDA. BP has already pledged $1 billion to begin early restoration and damage assessment projects, and the Subcommittee said they hoped BP would continue to do so. While they anticipate initiating long-term monitoring and mitigation projects in early 2012, the Subcommittee reiterated the importance of moving forward as quickly as possible, while also ensuring the restoration projects “get done right.” The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), has also been working to create legislation on how to distribute the several billion dollars in penalties that could arise from lawsuits against the companies responsible for the spill. The legislation has not yet been released, but Sen. Boxer indicated a markup could be expected on the measure shortly.
The National Ocean Council (NOC) released their Strategic Action Plan (SAP) Full Content Outlines earlier this month for public review. Over the course of the 30-day public comment period, several listening sessions were held throughout the country. The listening sessions kicked off on June 9, 2011 in Washington, D.C. at the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery and concluded on July 1, 2011 in Portland, Oregon. Ocean Leadership’s Policy Team worked with representatives from member institutions to develop comments on the full content outlines. The National Ocean Council also held a Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) Workshop at the Department of the Interior from June 21-June 23, 2011. The first day was the public and stakeholder portion of the workshop, which focused on providing information about the implementation of the priority objectives and the goals of CMSP and the Regional Planning Bodies (RPB’s). Breakout sessions were also held in which participants gathered formal comments and questions, which were presented to members of the Council. The NOC is expected to release full narratives of the SAPs in fall 2011 for public comment. Ocean Leadership will continue to provide input on these documents.