Washington, DC – On Wednesday, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) administrator Jane Lubchenco will testify before the House Appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and State – on hand to defend her agency’s $5.55 billion budget request, which represents a 15 percent increase over current funding levels.

While some of that money will certainly go to funding legitimate aspects of NOAA’s (though non-authorized) mission, a significant portion is expected to be diverted to supporting the agency’s priorities related to its “Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning” program – short-hand, some say, for zoning the responsible development of offshore energy square off the map.

Given those priorities, and recognizing the severe impact they could have on the American public, the Institute for Energy Research (IER) today released a series of questions that members of the Appropriations subcommittee should ask – and for which, they should demand answers – as the new NOAA chief sits in front of them today to defend her budget.

Question #1: In the Interim Framework document released by CEQ in December, the task force dismissed suggestions that an ocean zoning scheme would adversely impact the safe development of offshore energy. Rather, the document says, such a regime would ultimately benefit productive forms of offshore activity – allowing them to be managed “in a manner that reduces conflict, enhances compatibility among uses and with sustained ecosystem functions and services, and increases certainty and predictability for economic investments.”  Do you stand by that statement? If so, can you offer the committee a guarantee that neither existing, nor potential energy exploration in the future, will in any significant way be curtailed or otherwise affected by the zoning plan for which you are seeking funds today?

Question #2: Is it the official opinion of your agency and its staff that it’s currently just too easy, too quick, and too inexpensive for would-be energy producers to secure the permits and approvals necessary, and then navigate the years of attending litigation, to eventually have the chance to explore for energy offshore? Is it your view that the current system — overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior, but in many ways managed by the federal court system – simply does not make it difficult enough for this work to be executed?

Question #3: Principle no. 7, included on page 8 of your December framework document, identifies the “precautionary approach” as a guiding principle the directing agency will follow in determining whether to levy action in response to threats – real or perceived – offshore. According to that approach, the lack of “scientific certainty” will in no way impede the swiftness with which the agency acts to shut down development or activities it believes pose “serious” harm to the environment. Can you not see, Madame Administrator, how such a principle might possibly be vulnerable to abuse in the hands of someone intent on impeding offshore energy exploration?

Question #4: Can you provide the committee a scientific justification for why your agency felt it necessary to include the Great Lakes under jurisdiction of the oceans zoning task force? Are you aware that the Great Lakes are, in fact, not oceans? Are you further aware that the submerged lands in the Great Lakes region are technically under the jurisdiction of the states to which they are adjacent — and are actually part of the aggregate territory of those states? Can it be said the inclusion of the Great Lakes under this federal regime represents an attempt by your agency to bring areas under federal control currently managed by the states?

Question #5: It has been reported that your oceans zoning commission may decide to grant itself the authority to regulate all activities that in any way affect inland water sources. Some have speculated that this might create a scenario in which NOAA is empowered with the ability to direct and prohibit activities related to onshore energy development, in addition to its more direct authority, albeit of dubious legal grounding, over offshore exploration. Are you willing today to stand up and disabuse those concerns? Are you willing to promise this committee that neither your agency, nor this nebulous task force of which you are a member, will ever use this authority to deny Americans access to onshore energy resources?


March 16, 2010
Patrick Creighton: 202.621.2947
Chris Tucker: 202.346.8825

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