February 18th, 2009
The GREENWIRE and E&E reporter Noelle Straub, writes (get the full story) about the Department of Interior planning on its upcoming $3 billion spending spree under the economic stimulus law.
“While its planning is just beginning, the department does have broad outlines of how to spend the money quickly.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said last week that each major office and service has assembled a list prioritizing its projects.
“For example, from the National Park Service, we have about a $9 billion listing of their projects, of their backlogs, and we’ve had them identify those that are ‘shovel ready,’ projects ready to go,” Salazar told reporters. “We’ve done that with each of the agencies.”
Those lists have been narrowed to projects that can be finished in the next 18 months, he added. . . .
But noting that he is the only person yet confirmed by the Senate to run Interior, Salazar expressed some frustration at not being able to fully take advantage of the stimulus money until his entire team is in place. President Obama might be facing a similar problem with vacancies in his Cabinet. . . .
But Salazar has been trying to speed up the process, saying he had about 10 conversations in just one day last week with different people about staffing up his department. . . .
Projects that are planned, programmed and ready to go — including those with all the required environmental studies completed — will be given the highest priority, [Quimby] said.
Like those of all other federal agencies, the Interior projects eventually will be posted on a Web site that will be linked to the existing stimulus site, www.recovery.gov. Details such as what the projects will accomplish, how much they will cost and their progress will all be posted “for maximum public transparency,” Quimby said. . . .
Bruce Sheaffer, the Park Service comptroller, said the agency has never had a program this large to finish within 18 months. To prepare, the service is creating an oversight committee for stimulus spending and compiling a list of projects to propose within the next 30 days. While most projects have the needed environmental analyses or do not require them, Sheaffer said there would be inevitable bottlenecks, most notably the agency’s ability to contract the work.
The shortened timeline of the stimulus also raises questions about whether adequate environmental analysis will be done for projects.
While Congress rejected a GOP attempt to speed up or waive National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, reviews for projects funded in the economic stimulus bill, they included a competing proposal from Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) requiring that adequate resources within the stimulus be devoted to ensuring that NEPA reviews “are completed on an expeditious basis.”