Why the Breakup of MMS Won't Work

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Why the Breakup of MMS Won't Work

Interior Itself Part of Problem; Broader Solutions Required

WASHINGTON - The breakup of the U.S. Minerals Management Service announced
yesterday by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar only papers over deeper
problems and impedes real solutions, according to Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Independent review and
presidential leadership will be needed to create functional,
mission-driven regulatory and revenue structures.

Yesterday,
Sec. Salazar broke MMS into three new entities (the Bureau of Ocean
Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement,
and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue) answering directly to two
different assistant secretaries of Interior. This approach is flawed
because:

  • Conflicts between resource protection and
    promotion are merely elevated, not eliminated, as the new entities are
    supervised by political appointees with energy and revenue production
    mandates;
  • The same managers will be relocated to implement the
    same policies that led to the disastrous BP blowout and spill from the
    Deepwater Horizon rig; and
  • Scientists, engineers and other
    specialists inside the former MMS will remain vulnerable to political
    countermands and retaliation. The plan has no mechanism to ensure that
    evidence of problems will not again be suppressed.

"This
hurried reorganization is a panicked palliative, like rearranging the
deckchairs on the Deepwater Horizon," stated PEER Executive Director
Jeff Ruch. "The Interior Department and its Secretary are both parts of
the problem requiring outside intervention."

PEER points to the
erratic leadership of Sec. Salazar who has repeatedly said that "energy
independence" is his "top priority" at Interior, sending the strong
message that protecting natural resources is secondary, contrary to the
statutory mission of the agency. In late March, Sec. Salazar ignored
both internal and external warnings about deficient spill prevention and
response capabilities in endorsing major expansion of offshore drilling
in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

Significantly,
specialists within MMS with firsthand knowledge of the breakdowns have
not been consulted. The key Interior decision-makers have extremely
limited experience with the issues, a deficiency rationalized as
"bringing fresh eyes" to the situation. Sec. Salazar has been resistant
to seeking out former whistleblowers or other reformers who know "where
the bodies are buried" in the deeply dysfunctional Interior Department.

PEER has been working with current and former MMS employees who
believe that solutions cannot be found solely inside Interior, urging,
for example, that transfer of environmental and safety functions outside
of Interior to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
and the U.S. Coast Guard, respectively, should be seriously studied.
The U.S. Treasury should review taking over the collection of oil and
gas royalties (the second biggest source of federal revenue next to the
income tax) due to the long history of under-collection and collusion
within Interior.

"Interior cannot fix itself; we need an
independent review," added Ruch. "Righting this ship will require
presidential leadership, including a hard look at his own Cabinet."

 

See the
MMS breakup order 

Look at
Interior's tone deafness to spill warnings

Examine
continuing suppression of eco-reviews in Interior

View some MMS
policies that block effective review

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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