Monthly Archives: February 2011

First Gulf drill permit issued

After nearly a year, the Interior Department has issued the first deepwater drilling permit since the Deepwater Horizon spill–to Noble Energy Inc.

“…in a conference call with reporters, Mr. Bromwich said that there were ‘absolutely no politics associated with the approval of this application.’ He also said that the decision to grant Noble Energy the drilling permit was not a response to Judge Feldman’s order; he said the department disagreed with the ruling and was preparing a legal response.”

Uh huh. And nothing to do with Ken Salazar’s upcoming appearance before Congress, either.

Civil Works Budget Proposal

The Obama administration has released its proposed budget for fiscal year 2012, and, as usual, the Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works program is left wanting.

The budget calls for $4.631 billion in gross discretionary funding for civil works; down from last year’s proposed $4.939 billion, and from fiscal 2010′s proposed $5.125 billion. (Generally, in previous years, Congress has stepped up to increase these numbers so the actually appropriated amounts were higher.)

The budget calls for $2.314 for operations and maintenance and 1.48 billion for construction. A year ago, the construction account was $1.69 billion.

Of particular note to navigation interests, the Corps’ press release notes:

“In connection with the FY12 Budget, the Administration proposes changes in the way federal navigation activities are funded.  The Administration will work with Congress to reform the laws governing the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to support increased investments in safe, reliable, highly cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable inland waterways, while ensuring that commercial navigation users meet their share of the costs of activities financed from this trust fund.  The Budget proposes to increase revenues paid by commercial navigation users sufficiently to meet their share of the costs of activities financed from this trust fund in future years. In addition, legislation will be proposed to expand the authorized uses of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund so that its receipts are available to finance the federal share of efforts carried out by several agencies in support of commercial navigation through the nation’s ports.”

The Inland Waterways Users Board worked with the Corps for two years to negotiate a Capital Development Plan that promised to do exactly that, but the plan was rejected by the Office of Management and Budget. It will be interesting to see what is meant by “The Administration will work with Congress to reform the laws governing the Inland Waterways Trust Fund,” as well as by “The Budget proposes to increase revenues paid by commercial navigation users sufficiently to meet their share of the costs…”

Landrieu blasts drill ban as driller files bankruptcy

Sen. Mary Landrieu disclosed that the American Seahawk Drilling company will file for bankruptcy due to the lack of drilling permits being issued in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Tonight, I received news that the American Seahawk Drilling Company will file bankruptcy and exit the Gulf of Mexico. I have said repeatedly that the administration’s excruciatingly slow release of oil and gas permits will cause job losses and undue economic hardship. Sadly, the worst-case predictions are now true, and we are still living this economic nightmare,” Sen. Landrieu said.

Mariners seek Massachusetts law struck

This involves coastal waters, and a law passed because of a spill in a harbor rather than a court ruling.

But the federalism issues are very similar to those involved in the Vessel General Permit issued by the EPA in 2008 and added to by states, making up the same kind of “patchwork” of spill regulations on inland waterways from state to state.

Illinois was three days away from shutting down all waterborne commerce in early 2009 because of its unwittingly draconian additions to the VGP–until a last-minute judicial stay allowed lawmakers to see what they had almost done.

Two cheers for earmarks

Guess what? Turns out all earmarks aren’t bad after all.

“Across the country, local governments, nonprofit groups and scores of farmers, to name but a few, are waking up to the fact that when Congress stamped out earmarks last week, it was talking about their projects, too.”

Our industry, which has often had to rely on earmarks to make up for a broken budget system for water infrastructure projects, has known this forever.