Is the Secretary of the Interior Asleep at the Wheel?
It has been more than 3 weeks since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster began and the well is still spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico every single day. There is no end in sight to either the oil spill or, apparently, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s shame.
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, told reporters Wednesday that the “intellectual horsepower of the country is engaged in solving this problem.”
Chu said he had called upon the “very best” physicists, engineers, materials scientists and geologists from the government, academia and industry to “think outside of the box” in finding ways to tackle the spill.
“Things are looking up. Progress is being made,” he told reporters. Chu declined to explain the reason for his newfound optimism, saying simply: “I’m feeling more comfortable than I was a week ago.”
Think about the absurdity of Chu’s statement for a second. We are facing an on-going ecological disaster of immense proportions that grows larger by the day. It has been 23 days since the initial incident with no end in sight. And what do those charged with protecting our natural resources have to offer? Paeans to their new found comfort and broad assurances that progress is being made.
And while Chu is offering up happy talk about progress Salazar is by his side to ensure that no oil executive gets their feelings hurt in the process,
At his side, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the mobilization of the best minds at the BP Command Center in Houston, Texas was not a vote of no confidence in the British energy giant’s ability to plug the well.
“They are not flailing around,” he said, noting that there is nonetheless, “a great deal of frustration” in the lack of progress in preventing an estimated 210,000 gallons of crude from streaming into the sea each day.
Not flailing? Well now that is a relief! Oh, and they are frustrated. Those poor oil executives, I’m glad Salazar was there to reassure them through this terribly trying ordeal.
Sarcasm aside I have no doubt that this is an incredibly complex problem. But it has been more than 3 weeks since this fiasco began and there is still no end in sight. Every day brings another hare-brained scheme from BP – a really big lid! A smaller lid! Crushed up rubber! It’s obvious that BP has no clue how to solve this problem and they should have been asked to step aside weeks ago.
And while oil executives continue their Congressional kabuki public interest blog ProPublica reports that the Department of Interior has been operating as if the spill had never occurred,
Regulators at the Minerals Management Service exempted 27 additional offshore drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico  from performing an in-depth environmental analysis—even after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, according to reporting by McClatchy. One of those exemptions went to BP.
The Deepwater Horizon rig had also been exempted from having to perform an in-depth environmental analysis  using something known as a “categorical exclusion.” Categorical exclusions are used to fast-track drilling plans by eliminating paperwork that is deemed to be unnecessary or redundant because the drilling would probably have no significant effect on the environment . While the granting of an exclusion is not the final step before a company is free to drill, it does expedite the review process.
As of Wednesday evening this is still happening. The Department’s excuse is that current law is inadequate,
But, the official emphasized, the problem is current law, which only gives the Department of the Interior 30 days to conduct the final review.
With the resources and that amount of time, it’s not really possible to conduct a full environmental impact, said the Interior Department official, who spoke to ABC News on condition of anonymity.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday that he is submitting a proposal to Congress that among other steps would “increase MMS’s authority to review exploration plans that companies submit.”
Why has taken three weeks for Interior to even acknowledge this problem? Did they even begin to work on a legislative proposal before the press began asking questions this week?
I mean this in all seriousness – what specifically has the Interior Secretary been doing since April 20, 2010? By the looks of it he’s been giving moral support to BP and ignoring the systemic failures of his Department’s regulatory scheme. Maybe Secretary Salazar got a late start because he was waiting for a helicopter to fetch his vacationing Chief of Staff out of the Grand Canyon?
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