Watching Government: A thousand days, and counting

April 30, 2018
Political pundits love to analyze a US president’s performance when a thousand days have passed. They reason that this is enough time to evaluate his track record fairly.

Political pundits love to analyze a US president’s performance when a thousand days have passed. They reason that this is enough time to evaluate his track record fairly.

So, the International Association of Geophysical Contractors and National Ocean Industries Association jointly marked the thousandth day on Apr. 23 since the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Division said five Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) applications that five geologic and geophysical contractors sought to work on the US Mid-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf were “final and complete.”

The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act requires agencies to make decisions on IHA applications within 120 days, “yet it is now 1,000 days later, and final decisions on the IHAs and BOEM’s geophysical permits are still pending,” IAGC Pres. Nikki Martin said in Houston. “This inexplicable delay represents a complete bureaucratic breakdown by federal agencies in what should be an otherwise straightforward process.

“Blowing past its 120-day statutory deadline by 880 days and counting, NOAA Fisheries confirms the Government Accountability Office’s January report documenting the agency’s derelictions, finding numerous and unjustifiable administrative failures that have contributed to the current quagmire surrounding the authorization of seismic surveys in the Atlantic OCS,” she said.

A NOAA Fisheries spokesperson told OGJ in an Apr. 24 e-mail that the public comment period for the IHAs has concluded, and work continues to respond to the large number of comments received “while also being engaged in necessary consultation under Section 7 of the [Endangered Species Act].”

Martin said, “The geophysical and exploration industries have routinely applied for and obtained MMPA authorizations in other regions, yet it has taken nearly 4 years to process authorizations for proposed seismic surveys on the Atlantic OCS. It is clear that the MMPA, as it stands today, is not equipped to meet the needs of the 21st century nor does it provide assurance of agency accountability regarding statutory timelines and processes that are predictable and unbiased.”

Martin said this is why IAGC and NOIA fully support passage of two bills in Congress—H.R. 3133, the SEA Act, and H.R. 4239, the SECURE Act—to modernize the MMPA.

‘A reasonable expectation’

“The legislation pending before the US House will accomplish what is a reasonable expectation of a federal regulatory program: transparent standards based on the best available science, efficient processes, elimination of redundancy and agency accountability of firm timelines adhering to current statute,” NOIA Pres. Randall B. Luthi added.

“These bills would provide clear direction and reasonable timelines to the agencies and regulated entities for processing MMPA authorization requests for seismic surveys, and other offshore activities such as marine research programs, infrastructure projects, and coastal restoration efforts,” Luthi said.