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Salazar to split MMS into two agencies

updated 11:15 a.m.
By Juliet Eilperin

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday he had commissioned an independent review of the BP oil spill and will split the Minerals Management Service into two parts "to assure the American people we will have a strong and independent organization holding energy companies accountable and in compliance with the laws of the land."

Salazar said he was making the reform in response to the Deepwater Horizon rig accident in the Gulf, which he called "one of the largest environmental catastrophes in decades."

The split will create a new Office of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, separate from the office that will oversee drilling permits and the collection of federal royalties from drilling operations.

Salazar, who noted that MMS brings in an average of $13 billion a year in royalties, said he was making the change "so there is no conflict, real or perceived, with respect to those functions."

But several points remained unclear, including whether the safety and environmental enforcement office would be able to veto drilling permits issued by MMS.

In a separate move, Salazar said he had asked the National Academy of Engineering "to conduct an investigation that will be independent and science-based, as to the accident and its causes."

"We are putting a fresh set of eyes on this," he said.

Richard Charter, a senior policy adviser for the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, said in an interview that there has always been "an inherent conflict of interest" embedded in the current system, where the same agency inspects oil rigs, probes wrongdoing and enforces safety rules while simultaneously collecting royalties from the companies it oversees.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) had proposed a somewhat similar reform last year, which would have stripped Interior of its management responsibility for MMS and made it an independent agency.

Issa, the top Republican on the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, has led a probe of mismanagement and ethical lapses at the agency since 2006. The probe has focused on flawed oil and natural gas deepwater leases issued in 1998 and 1999, during the Clinton administration, and continued through the Bush administration.

In September, 2008, the department's inspector general uncovered a scandal in MMS's Denver office in which employees consumed drugs and engaged in sexual activities with oil industry officials whom they regulated.

On Tuesday, Issa called Salazar's proposal "a first step in what must be a comprehensive effort that will address the entirety of the bureaucratic breakdown at Interior." The effort is all the more urgent, he said, because of the devastating oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico last month.

"While there are many outstanding questions surrounding what went wrong and what should have been done to avoid this disaster," he added, "what we know for sure is that MMS is in need of a surgical overhaul and that a quick-fix, band-aid approach is wholly inadequate and will only serve to preserve a broken bureaucracy at the expense of the American people and their safety."

By

Juliet Eilperin

 |  May 11, 2010; 1:47 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: In one Gulf Coast town, disaster disrupts delicate harmony between fishing and oil | Next: Updated: Climate bill has new drilling protections

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This will track back right to Dick C's secret energy meetings in 2001. Time for those minutes to be released.

Posted by: LARmarch5 | May 16, 2010 5:53 PM
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Posted by: itkonlyyou59 | May 14, 2010 9:27 AM
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If we have to drill in the ocean (just not along CA) then it seems a prerequisite would be to have the technologies and equipment in place to prevent a spill should that happen. Like some sort of secondary containment apparatus, an "off" lever at the bottom, something more than "oops." It's great that we can get it out of the ground but can we prevent it from leaking all over the place. Apparently not. Saying, "it rarely happens" isn't good enough since one time and the cost can be devastating.

I'm for developing hydrogen technologies, clean water to water, for most power sources that can then be augmented with gas until everything can be changed over or better options become standard. We have enough oil coming from existing places, and we don't have to alter plants that could have serious consequences.

@ Obama_TRAITOR_in_Chief: Did you read the article? A year ago Rep. Issa, who is a Republican, recommended the separation of this department as has others. With the recent disaster now is a great time, and the impetus to do it.

Posted by: allaire | May 11, 2010 9:21 PM
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More government bureaucracy, more administrators, more buildings, more taxes...

That is all democrats know

Posted by: Obama_TRAITOR_in_Chief | May 11, 2010 7:17 PM
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I find it a strange time to split the organization.

The real issue is not conflict of interest but a desire to confuse all of us as to what is wrong. Obviously what was wrong is BP on their application agreed to have a specific ability to respond and did not have this ability.

If this administration would quit being nice and immediately forbid BP from doing any additional business in the United Sates we would all benefit!

Posted by: satch63 | May 11, 2010 3:55 PM
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It looks like a royal scrap iron sale. I've got a little gold I'm trying to give away Juliet. This new version of the economy is romantic. Lose everything to gain everything. Keep Colby's mix of centralized and decentralized. Intelligence is getting more expensive, when it needs to get more profitable. All these off shore rigs are like time bombs. Off shore banking is a bomb shelter. All of my love, RO.

Posted by: tossnokia | May 11, 2010 11:49 AM
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Obama is no more than a male version of Sarah Palin.

Posted by: Maddogg | May 11, 2010 11:45 AM
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Mostly irrelevant for this oil spill. The toxins will be in the water for decades to come even though the water may appear pure.

We need to shut down all offshore drilling now and issue new regulations before drilling begins again.

Posted by: Maddogg | May 11, 2010 11:42 AM
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Hopefully these agencies will take care of the problem in an economically and environmentally friendly way
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Posted by: maciej1 | May 11, 2010 11:35 AM
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During the Bush administration, MMS, like FEMA, became a dumping ground for a toxic stew of ideological extremists. You know, it may take years, perhaps several administrations, to clean up the messes left by Bush and Cheney's deliberate efforts to undermine the functioning of federal agencies through their cronyism.

Posted by: osullivanc1 | May 11, 2010 11:35 AM
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Wow. Something must be wrong with Eilperin. She didn't try to link this to Gorebal Whining!!!

VOTE REPUBLICAN!!!

Posted by: A1965bigdog | May 11, 2010 11:34 AM
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In 2009, the Obama administration intervened to support the reversal of a court order that would have halted offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Obama’s Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has long had close ties to the industry, specifically cited BP’s Deepwater Horizon operation as one that should be allowed to go forward, according to a group involved in the court case.
A Washington DC Appeals Court ruled in April 2009 that the Bush administration’s five-year plan for offshore oil and gas drilling (covering 2007 to 2012) was not based on a proper review of the environmental impact of the drilling. Only days before the ruling, the Obama administration had granted BP a “categorical exclusion,” exempting it from an environmental impact study for the Deepwater Horizon project.
The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry trade group, intervened to reverse the court order, and was backed by the administration.

Posted by: corebanks1940 | May 11, 2010 11:28 AM
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mlcollier5895:
let's move it out of typical "washington" politics completely. there exists, in fact, a highly regulatory, non-political agency w/ the credibility to do the inspection / regulatory function described previously under MMS. and that's the US Coast Guard. good people. mission-oriented. apolitical. but that makes too much sense.
====================================

Is the Coast Guard still considered a military branch? If so, having a military branch doing inspections on commercial (non-military related) sites will put too much power in the hands of the Military. We have a very good balance of political/military power that prevents people like McArthur from turning into Napolean.

Posted by: ProfessorWrightBSU | May 11, 2010 11:26 AM
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let's move it out of typical "washington" politics completely. there exists, in fact, a highly regulatory, non-political agency w/ the credibility to do the inspection / regulatory function described previously under MMS. and that's the US Coast Guard. good people. mission-oriented. apolitical. but that makes too much sense.

Posted by: mlcollier5895 | May 11, 2010 11:20 AM
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What is wrong with having over site to preclude negative environmental impact. It is a good idea because the leasing side can develop minimum standards and the enforcement side can guarantee that there is mandatory compliance. That is the way it should be simply to minimize impact and preclude future situations like the one in the gulf. Good Job and three atta boys.

Posted by: virgin12 | May 11, 2010 11:15 AM
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Salazar can split the department into one hundred pieces and it still will not help control the safety of mines and oil wells, because the department has seeded the management and oversight of safety to the industries.

As long as industry controls the process, mines and oil platforms will not be safe.

Posted by: mike85 | May 11, 2010 11:13 AM
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Good. We have to stop Oil and Coal industries ability to corrupt Public Representatives responsible for both Oversight and Collection of Public Money. The Oil and Gas Industries have been Cheating the Public out of Billions, all while enjoying both Public Subsidies and Tax exemptions (in the case of Gulf Coast Drillers).

Require Drillers to be Insured for Worst case Scenario ($50~100 Billion to start from the looks of this accident).

The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund supported by industry fees should be raised from $1 Billion to $50 Billion.

Current Drillers should be subject to new Insurance and Safety Regulation requirements.

Posted by: liveride | May 11, 2010 11:05 AM
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Why not have the IRS collect money from minerals leases? They got an enforcement function that is often quite effective at rooting out scofflaws. A little waterboarding of Congress members could motivate them to award the owners of the minerals (the People of the United States) a decent return. A price set in 1850 is gonna be quite low due to inflation. Congress set a cap on damages from oil spills? What were they thinking? Companies who are as neglectful as BP should be pauperized when they screw up. That would encourage the others.

Posted by: BlueTwo1 | May 11, 2010 11:00 AM
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GREAT MOVE!!!

To those whining that this means more government workers -- do you "KNOW" what you're talking about or just repeating something from Faux "news"?

About time - this was an area where "separation of duties" should have been taken care of decades ago. Never good to mix income with oversight!!! Oversight always loses in such an organization.

The financial rating agencies were the prime example of why mixing income and oversight is DUMB and should be considered unethical.

Posted by: Freethotlib | May 11, 2010 10:58 AM
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.
A little bit of reform is OK, just don't go overboard.

Don't, for example, fire anyone, or hand out any reprimands. Just because the agency fails to do its job, that doesn't mean that anyone should be held accountable. Reorganize the Department to create an illusion of change, but please, no actual change.
.

Posted by: BrianX9 | May 11, 2010 10:44 AM
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Obama made a mistake of hiring Salazar, who is no environmentalist, but someone favorable to greedy conservatives.

Fire all the conservatives and replace them with competent professionals!!

Posted by: gkam | May 11, 2010 10:43 AM
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Adding a larger number of watchdog and regulatory agencies to oversee an expanding and increasingly complex environmentally sensitive extractive industry
IS A IMPORTANT AND GOOD MOVE.

Most of the people that repeatedly drone on with the "smaller government" mantra often do so with either little insight and intellect or else they have a self serving interest to abuse the people's ability to oversee the people's welfare and commons. Ours is a government of the people, by the people and for the people with the intention to oversee and act in the best long term interest of all people and not to mostly serve the interests of a powerful corporate or wealthy hierarchy at the expense of damaging the people's welfare and resources.

Posted by: cmrosko | May 11, 2010 10:39 AM
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Good job! Split them up just like the Republican representative had been recommending for the past 4 years. The one hand shouldn't know what the other hand is doing.

The agency that does the inspections shouldn't be taking any money, and the agency that takes the money shouldn't be doing any inspections. That's not rocket science. That's just common sense.

Posted by: ProfessorWrightBSU | May 11, 2010 9:51 AM
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Sounds like a good plan. Probably a long ovedue reform, as well. Too bad we had to wait for a tragedy to strike.

Reminds me of events my home town. Everyone complained about certain railroad crossing for years and years. Then (you guessed this part, right?) a carload of cheerleaders got run over by a train. We had new crossing guards within a matter of weeks. True story.

Sad.

Posted by: ZZim | May 11, 2010 9:51 AM
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That's all we need. Another damned government agency. Pretty soon the unemployment rate will be zero because every soul in this once free country will work for the government. Of course the problem will be if we can print enough worthless paper money to pay for all theses pie in the sky flights of fancy OR will we be like Greece and ask for the IMF to bail us out? Oh! I forgot we supply about 40% of these funds. It looks like we'll be caught between a rock and a hard place. Who will be commissar of central Florida?

Posted by: rmilitello | May 11, 2010 9:50 AM
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The only wonder is why this wasn't done decades ago. It's easy to understand why it didn't happen on the watch of the petroleum presdent's, i.e., the Bush's, but what excuse did the others have?

Posted by: brcolorado | May 11, 2010 9:48 AM
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If they split up it will just cost us taxpayers more money. They just need to do their jobs right and get it done. This would save alot more money in the long run.

Posted by: quartercircle | May 11, 2010 9:39 AM
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This actually seems very similar to how the NRC's role changed after Three Mile Island.

Posted by: alkuth | May 11, 2010 9:24 AM
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When will Obama administration officials be indicted for accepting bribes from BP in exchange for waiving the environmental impact study that led to this disaster?

What did Barack Obama promise BP in exchange for those huge campaign donations?

BO and BP are in bed together.


Posted by: Jerzy | May 11, 2010 9:12 AM
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YIPPEE! More government workers...just what we need!
This country needs less government...!

Posted by: azstormy | May 11, 2010 9:07 AM
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