Trump meets with ND senator Heitkamp to discuss possible environmental policy role

Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota met with President-elect Donald J. Trump Friday a day after Reuters reported that she is under consideration as the next secretary of energy or secretary of interior.

According to a report published by The Hill, Heitkamp and Trump discussed coal and oil pipelines, among other issues, during the afternoon rendezvous.

First elected by a slim margin in 2012, the former state attorney general and Environmental Protection Agency staff lawyer likely faces a tough race to keep her seat in the Senate come 2018.

If nominated and confirmed to a position in Trump’s cabinet, the state’s Republican governor would appoint a replacement to take her place in the Senate.

Heitkamp issued a statement after the meeting with Trump but declined to say whether a cabinet nomination was offered.

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Shell again asks Interior to allow Arctic oil drilling

Bowhead whales inhabit the shallow Chukchi Sea. An endangered species, Balaena mysticetus can grow to 40 feet in length and weigh up to 100 tons. Walruses, ringed seals, a variety of whale species, and polar bears also inhabit the Chukchi Sea, as do millions of sea birds of many species. Photo courtesy National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, photo by Dave Rugh.
Bowhead whales inhabit the shallow Chukchi Sea. An endangered species, Balaena mysticetus can grow to 40 feet in length and weigh up to 100 tons. Walruses, ringed seals, a variety of whale species, and polar bears also inhabit the Chukchi Sea, as do millions of sea birds of many species. Photo courtesy National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, photo by Dave Rugh.

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC has decided to again seek U.S. government permission to drill for oil in the Arctic.

The company filed an exploration plan with the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Thursday, according to a report in Financial Times.

An earlier effort to obtain approval for drilling in the fragile Chukchi Sea was blocked by the federal appeals court in San Francisco, which ruled that BOEM’s environmental impact statement on $2 billion worth of leases sold to Shell did not comply with federal law. The decision in Native Village of Point Hope v. Jewell pushed Shell’s nearly decade long effort to extract hydrocarbons from some of the most environmentally sensitive marine areas on Earth back to the drawing boards.

Shell has also experienced a series of machinery disasters in the Arctic, including the grounding of a vessel off the coast of Sitkalidak Island, Alaska in 2012. A Coast Guard report on that incident released last April concluded that “inadequate assessment and management of risks” was a principal cause of it.

Within U.S. terrritorial waters, the federal government owns the sea and seabed beyond 5.6 kilometers past the shoreline. Two statutes that date back to the 1950s – the Submerged Lands Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act – together authorize the secretary of the interior to lease submerged oil and gas deposits. However, that authority is subject to a variety of constraints imposed by broadly applicable environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA requires federal agencies to study the environmental impact of “major federal actions” before moving forward with them.

The drilling rig Kulluk ran aground near Alaska on Dec. 31, 2012. This image shows the distressed vessel on Jan. 1, 2013. Image courtesy Wikimedia.
The drilling rig Kulluk ran aground near Alaska on Dec. 31, 2012. This image shows the distressed vessel on Jan. 1, 2013. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

 

Interior gets new deputy secretary, NOAA gets new director

New leaders are on board at two of America’s natural resources policy agencies.

The U.S. Senate, after a nearly seven-month delay, has confirmed Michael L. Connor as deputy secretary of the interior.

Connor, who previously served as commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, counsel to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, director of the Department of Interior’s Indian Water Rights Office, and staff lawyer for the cabinet department, was approved for the post by a 97-0 vote on Feb. 27.

Connor will be number two at Interior to secretary Sally Jewell, overseeing a team of more than 70,000 employees and an annual budget of around $18 billion.

His nomination had been in limbo since Obama nominated him for the post in July 2013.

Lowell Pimley, an engineer who has been an employee of the Bureau of Reclamation since 1980, will serve as interim director of that agency until the Senate confirms Connor’s replacement in the job.

On March 10 Obama nominated Estevan Lopez, the director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, to lead Reclamation.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is also welcoming a new leader.

Kathryn Sullivan, a retired U.S. Navy Reserve officer, astronaut, oceanographer, and former NOAA chief scientist, was confirmed March 6 as the tenth director of the agency and undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere.