Interior Secretary Ken Salazar enjoys wielding power. Remember, during the Gulf oil spill he firmly stated that he would put “a boot on the throat” of British Petroleum.
He has now issued a memorandum for the use of science in decision-making, according to The New York Times Oct. 1 Green blog. Salazar declared: “The American people must have confidence that the Department of Interior is basing its decisions on the best available science…free of improper influence.” But it was Salazar who attached his Gulf drilling moratorium surreptitiously to a National Academy of Engineering report that did NOT recommend stopping drilling.
Trying to play the big shot again, Salazar issued his science policy rule because the White House Office of Science and Technology has dilly-dallied since March 2009 when President Obama told it to come up with guidelines to ensure government science was conducted without political influence.
Other federal agencies have been willing to wait for White House policy guidance on science—even for18 months. But Salazar, showing his chutzpah, moved ahead on his own, saying his science policy will “ensure that scientists will not be coerced to alter scientific findings. Even though it was okay to reverse their findings, as he did on the drilling moratorium mandate.
Salazar last month said we can expect stricter rules for offshore drilling once the moratorium ends and it won’t end until the federal bureaucrats are “assured that the industry is operating safely,” according to a Mother Jones story. We “still need oil and gas from the Gulf Of Mexico,” Salazar said in a speech; however, the deep-water Horizon explosion and spill “laid bare fundamental shortcomings in the oil and gas industry’s safety practices.”
And only he can fix things.
The petroleum industry and most Republicans strongly oppose the moratorium. Now, Mary Landrieu (D-LA) pledged to block action on Obama’s nominee for director of Management and Budget until the moratorium is lifted. She indicated the moratorium was worse than the damage done by the oil spill. A Louisiana State University economist told Bloomberg BusinessWeek Oct. 2 that if oil rigs are idle for the full six-month moratorium, the payroll loss could be as high as $450 million.
Continuing to throw his weight around, Salazar said in his speech: “We will only lift the moratorium when I, as Secretary of Interior, am comfortable that we have significantly reduced those risks.” He also announced two new rules, the Drilling Safety Rule and the Workplace Safety Rule. Drillers will also be required to have their plans reviewed by independent experts, Salazar said. Salazar apparently believes the industry has no self interest in operating as safely and inexpensively as possible—that only government or its hand-picked “experts” know best.
Salazar also has called on Congress to split the Minerals Management Service, which oversees drilling, into two agencies. His plan also calls for stretching out the current 30-day environmental and safety review period for exploration plans to 90 days. Apparently Salazar, in bureaucratic thinking, is sure that two agencies are always better than one. He made the announcement wearing his macho big-brimmed cowboy hat. Federal investigators will be examining BP’s safety practices and other issues, the AP reported Oct. 4, as the fifth series of hearings begins by federal investigators to try to out-judge the industry on how safety can be improved.
The moratorium on drilling may well complicate the Administration’s efforts to compensate Gulf residents, ClimateDesk.Org reported in July. Why? Because Kenneth Feinberg, whom Obama appointed to administer the $20 billion fund British Petroleum (BP) agreed to—in an atmosphere of political pressure—has said fund money won’t be used to pay claims of those affected by the moratorium. The White House, however, has said that it will. Meanwhile, drilling remains stalled as claims pile up, thanks to Salazar’s hold-up. BP has said it is not liable for damages resulting from the moratorium–only damages from the oil spill. Unemployed rig workers might sue the government. BP could sue under the “takings clause” of the Constitution because the government took their permits to explore. Questions of liability and damages abound as the moratorium is scheduled to last to the end of November.
Salazar must know that more than 30 percent of our oil comes from the Gulf of Mexico (according to FACTBOX on the Gulf, reported by Reuters). His moratorium increases our dependence on foreign imports. Some 331 wells were drilled in the Gulf last year. The Gulf has 7,000 active leases, 64 percent of which are “deepwater.” Eighty percent of offshore oil production and 45 percent of natural gas production came from deepwater wells in 2009. As for economic impact, federal offshore leasing revenue last year totaled $6 billion. All U.S. offshore operations provide an estimated 150,000 jobs. So, Salazar’s ego is costing the country dearly.
As if husbanding our natural resources weren’t considered crucial enough for Salazar, he is now playing master of racial politics. He is implementing new workplace rules for diversity and inclusion, according to the Washington Post.com. A study by Interior’s black employees last year determined that the Interior Department excluded blacks from hiring and promotion opportunities. According to a BlackAmerica.com story, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) sent Interior Department a notice showing diversity was “not part of the strategy for the Bureau of Fish and Wildlife and that that department’s leadership didn’t show that diversity was important.” Of Interior’s 56,622 employees, 5.6 percent are African Americans, EEOC said. Not enough.
America can be assured, however, that Ken Salazar is on the case. He ordered managers to file monthly diversity reports, He also hired a veteran diversity official to serve Interior as chief diversity officer. “This means,” said Salazar, “establishing a department that ensures no one is shut out or left behind. We are the Department of America,” he declared boldly. Our ranks should reflect the face of the America we serve.”
America could be served better if Salazar got off his high horse and let the country get the oil we so badly need.