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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Splitting the Difference

Air Date: Week of

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is reorganizing the Minerals Management Service, the government agency responsible for overseeing offshore drilling. He wants to divide the agency in two: one arm to collect royalties and the other to enforce safety rules.


YOUNG: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young. While the Gulf coast is bracing for the oil’s impact the spill is already having an effect in Washington D.C. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced major changes to the agency that regulates offshore drilling, the Minerals Management Service.

As Living on Earth and others have reported, MMS, as it’s known, has long been criticized for ethics problems and lax oversight. hIt didn’t even require a full environmental analysis of the drilling plan BP submitted for the rig that exploded April 20th. And Jeff Ruch, who directs the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told us that Minerals Management’s dual mission put the agency in a bind.

RUCH: There is a conflict. Their primary role is to collect the government cut, the royalties, and they're also supposed to make sure that the operations are done according to law. And the principle laws involve protecting the environment from many effects, principally, oil spills.

YOUNG: In other words Minerals Management was both policing and promoting offshore drilling. Well, not anymore. Secretary Salazar is splitting the Minerals Management Service in two.

SALAZAR: I believe the job of ensuring that energy companies follow the law and protect safety of workers and environment should be independent from MMS’ leasing and revenue collection and permitting functions.

YOUNG: Secretary Salazar also wants to give Minerals Management more authority, resources and time to review drilling plans that companies submit. The announcement drew applause from many watchdog groups. But in Alaska, there are still questions about plans for new drilling already in the works. Alaska Wilderness League’s Kristen Miller says Minerals Management was operating under its old rules when it considered plans for drilling in the Beaufort and Chuckchi Seas.

MILLER: For the Arctic that means there is a drill rig that as we speak is heading up and is prepared to start exploratory drilling in less than 50 days. We strongly believe the administration has to suspend that activity because many of the questions that are raised in the Gulf are the same questions that are surrounding the development that’s expected in the Arctic.



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