For Immediate Release
Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Interior Cooking Books on Alaska Offshore Eco-Analysis
Interior Had Critical GAO Report Weeks before Unveiling Offshore Drilling Plans
WASHINGTON - Scientists are subjected to U.S. Interior
Department management practices that “hindered their ability to
complete sound environmental analyses” in reviewing Alaskan offshore
drilling projects, according to a Government Accountability Office
report released today. The report confirms scientists’ accounts channeled through Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that
Interior managers routinely “suppressed” critical findings on issues
ranging from the likelihood of oil spills to acoustic damage to whales
to introduction of invasive species.
Interior Department officials have had this critical GAO report for
several weeks before the agency unveiled a major expansion of offshore
drilling in coastal waters, including the Alaskan Outer Continental
Shelf (OCS0 last week. While the Interior Department in
its comments stated that it agreed with the GAO report, it has left the
same management structure that obstructed honest reviews in charge of
its Alaska offshore projects. The GAO report made several critical findings, including:
pressure resulted in scientific reviews of the environmental impacts of
Alaskan offshore oil drilling that were so incomplete that they have
been largely invalidated in court rulings in lawsuits brought by
Scientists were under pressure to churn out reviews that omitted important environmental concerns. In
reaction, many scientists left the Alaska OCS Office of the Minerals
Management Service, the Interior Department agency issuing offshore
drilling permits. “From 2003 to 2008, 11 to 50 percent of the analysts in that section left each year,” according to the report; and
officials allowed scientists access to project data only on a “need to
know” basis in order to protect what they believed to be the
proprietary nature of oil industry information.
the same managers who manipulated and suppressed scientific evaluations
are still in charge, why should the public expect candid assessments of
environmental impacts to suddenly begin?” asked PEER Executive Director
Jeff Ruch, whose organization’s previous disclosures of scientists’
complaints triggered the GAO report.. “It is unsettling
that Interior Department officials sat on this scathing GAO report and
did not mention any aspect of it when they blithely announced their
ambitious offshore drilling agenda just days ago.”
promises to address problems, rules issued by the Interior Department
in 2010 leave the oil companies in charge of what information
scientists can share. As a result, it will remain
difficult to prevent recurrences of the misconduct that GAO detailed,
since all of the relevant material will be classified as “proprietary”
and thus beyond the public’s view.
problem is that a directive by President Obama in March 2009 to develop
scientific integrity and transparency policies, including whistleblower
protection, appears to have been abandoned. The White
House was supposed to unveil draft rules for agencies back in July 2009
but those rules never emerged and their status remains cloudy, at best.
“Scientists remain as vulnerable to political pressure today in the Obama administration as they did under Bush,” Ruch added. “Without accountability for past abuses, it is difficult to take pledges of reform seriously.”
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