Environmentalists are still fuming over the fact that President Barack Obama ignored warnings from NOAA about major spills from offshore rigs before he opened up the East Coast to drilling. Now, it turns out that the Administration exempted BP from doing an environmental impact statement and accepted dismissive accounts regarding the potential for spills.
The Interior Department under Secretary Ken Salazar exempted BP’s Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis last year. That decision was made by the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which has been clouded in scandals involving corruption and close ties to industry. Environmentalists strongly opposed Ken Salazar because of his own close ties to drilling interests and generally poor environmental voting record.
Yet, the criticism of Obama in the aftermath of this tragedy has been quite modest. One can only imagine the outcry if President Bush opened up the East Coast to drilling, said that rigs do not cause spills (here), disregarded warnings about such spills from his own agency (here), and waived an environmental impact study based on the industry’s assurance. On top of that, Obama has been the largest recipient of BP campaign money (here). No one expects the President to follow waivers of impact studies — that is Salazar’s job. However, once again, the muted criticism from liberals is striking.
The MMS itself is often ridiculed as a rubber stamp. In this case, it lived up to its reputation. In one assessment, it stated that “a large oil spill” from a platform would not exceed a total of 1,500 barrels and that a spill “offshore of the inner Continental shelf,” would not reach the coast. In another assessment, it defined the most likely large spill as totaling no more than 4,600 barrels and, in a Limbaugh-like assessment, insisted that nature would take care of much of the problem.
Notably, the Administration is only willing to pause on its plan to open up the East Coast to drilling — not reverse its policy.
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