TV broadcaster and commentator Ron Whitlock interviewed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in Brownsville, Texas.

BROWNSVILLE, RGV – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has been asked to speed up regulatory environmental review of the liquefied natural gas export terminal projects under consideration at the Port of Brownsville.

The request came from veteran TV broadcaster and commentator Ron Whitlock, whose Ron Whitlock Reports program appears on Televisa in the Rio Grande Valley. In a Q&A session with Cruz in Brownsville on Tuesday, Whitlock said:

“The Port of Brownsville is our big job creator. We have all these LNG firms wanting to spend trillions of dollars once they have been approved. They have not been approved by the Obama regulatory agencies. Can you get the regulatory agencies off our back? South Texas has had them on our back on the 2nd Causeway and on the Port of Brownsville.”

Cruz responded that he is all for streamlining the regulatory process.

“I’m actively urging the (Trump) administration to move forward with regulatory reform. We have seen some positive steps. What they have done so far has been quite good. They need to do more,” Cruz told Whitlock.

“What I am urging is we pursue regulatory reform on three parallel paths. First is executive, as you suggested. Now executive is quick, it can be done rapidly but it is also temporary, the next administration can take it away. The second path is regulatory, going through notice and comment, issuing formal regulations. That’s slower, it takes a little bit longer but it is more permanent. It is harder to undo. It takes the same formal notice and comment to undo it. The third and the most permanent is legislative. Legislative takes the longest, it is by far the slowest, but once it is in law it is much harder to undo.”

Cruz then spoke about the Port of Brownsville in particular.

“You talked about the Port of Brownsville. One of the things I have taken a very active leadership role in is fighting for our ports, Brownsville, Corpus, all up and down the Gulf Coast,” Cruz said.

“Our ports are such an incredible engine of commerce, such an incredible pillar of strength, for the state, for the economy, and my office has been working very, very, closely with the Port of Brownsville and with all of the ports to ensure we have federal funds there, to ensure we have the resources there, to deepen the ports so we can take in larger draft ships and also to expand energy.”

The Port of Brownsville would like to deepen its ship channel by 10 feet to accommodate larger vessels. It has congressional authorization under the Water Resources and Development Act of 2016 but funding has not been appropriated. At a depth of 52 feet, rather than the current 42 feet, companies like Keppel AmFELS could expand services at the port.

Kathleen Eisbrenner, NextDecade chair and CEO, said that as currently envisioned, Rio Grande LNG’s proposed facility and export terminal at the Port of Brownsville would require a capital investment of up to $17.3 billion (at full build-out of six trains) and employ several thousand workers during construction.

Upon completion, Eisbrenner said, Rio Grande LNG’s facility is expected to create hundreds of permanent full-time jobs and potentially generate hundreds of millions of dollars in local and state tax revenues.  Additionally, the LNG project is expected to provide a substantial boost to the local job market and economy through the further creation of thousands more indirect jobs in Cameron County.

Texas-based NextDecade, LLC is the owner and developer of Rio Grande LNG.

Port of Brownsville partnership with Mission EDC

Cruz’s visit to the Valley coincided with a memorandum of understanding being signed by the leadership of the Brownsville Navigation District and the leadership of Mission Economic Development Corporation.

John Wood, chairman of the Brownsville Navigation District’s board of directors, said the collaboration is designed to boost on international trade opportunities with Mexico and other development projects. Through the alliance, Wood said, both entities will” work to connect and grow business” between the Mission Business Park and the Port of Brownsville.

Brownsville Navigation District port director Eddie Campirano is pictured with Mission EDC CEO Alex Meade at the signing of an MOU between the two entities.

“The Port of Brownsville is one of the largest economic engines in the Rio Grande Valley,” Wood said. “As a link to the global marketplace, the port is well-positioned to assist in regional economic development. This agreement with Mission EDC further enhances our pledge to assist where we can to affect positive change for the Valley and its residents.”

Wood cited a 2015 economic impact study by Martin Associates which revealed that activity at the Port of Brownsville has an economic impact of $3 billion to the state and more than $2 billion regionally.

“Mission, the Port of Brownsville and the RGV make up one of the most dynamic international trade corridors in Texas and the country,” said Alex Meade, Mission EDC CEO. “Forming strategic partnerships to create business opportunities and jobs has always been a priority for the Mission EDC. We’re pleased to work with the Port of Brownsville on trade and economic development.”

Meade said his group, a component of the City of Mission, is tasked with creating jobs, attracting capital investment, improving the quality of life and strengthening the workforce in Mission, Texas. “Mission EDC focuses on five areas: entrepreneurship and STEAM education, business expansion and retention, recruitment, infrastructure and transportation, and quality of life,” Meade told the Rio Grande Guardian.

Bahia Grande Restoration Project

In other Brownsville Navigation District news, its board of directors recently announced a “provisional commitment” by Rio Grande LNG, LLC, otherwise known as Rio Grande LNG, towards the restoration, enhancement and preservation of the Bahia Grande wetland complex.

BND Chairman Wood said this would be achieved through the expansion of a pilot channel into a permanent and enhanced source of tidal flow to the Bahia Grande.

“The Port of Brownsville has long recognized the vitality of the Bahia Grande as critical to the area’s environmental health,” Wood said. “This memorandum of understanding with Rio Grande LNG secures the future well-being of this tidal basin which in turn will re-establish balance to the ecological sanctuaries we’ve enjoyed for decades.”

NextDecade’s Eisbrenner, said the Bahia Grande Restoration Project is contingent on Rio Grande LNG’s final investment decision to construct and operate a new LNG liquefaction facility and export terminal at the Port of Brownsville. Texas-based NextDecade, LLC is the owner and developer of Rio Grande LNG.

“NextDecade is proud to support such a key project in the effort to reestablish the Bahia Grande,” Eisbrenner said. “NextDecade is committed to being a good neighbor, steward of the environment and corporate citizen. We believe that this project will bring significant and lasting benefits to the region, the environment and the economy for generations.”

Eisbrenner said the agreed upon environmental project would restart restoration work that had previously stalled due to lack of funding. The effort would significantly enhance water flow, improve water quality, enrich thousands of acres of wetlands, and expand critical habitats for marine life and other wildlife in the 10,000-acre Bahia Grande wetlands area, Eisbrenner said. She pointed out that numerous federal and state agencies have identified the widening of the pilot channel as a critical step to restore the Bahia Grande wetlands habitat.

Wood said restoration efforts began in 2005 with the creation of the pilot channel, named after former Port of Brownsville Commissioner and initial project sponsor, Carl “Joe” Gayman, to connect the Bahia Grande with the Brownsville Ship Channel.

Wood added that BND has secured all necessary approvals and permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and now has secured the requisite construction services from Rio Grande LNG, who would bear the total cost for engineering and construction of the project in conjunction with their facility works.

Under the Port of Brownsville/Rio Grande LNG agreement, the project would:

  • Widen the Carl “Joe” Gayman Bahia Grande Restoration Channel in an effort to increase tidal exchange and restore more natural salinity regimes in the Bahia Grande;
  • Enhance the natural hydrology and salinity of the Bahia Grande area to ensure the restoration and preservation of the wetlands habitat for fisheries, waterfowl and other wildlife; and
  • Provide the local community with public recreational benefits associated with a thriving ecological zone.

The Ron Whitlock Reports show appears on Televisa’s TV 9 in the Rio Grande Valley; Sinclair’s FOX TV 38.1/Cable 11 & KTOV TV 38.3/Cable 15 in Corpus Christi &