The Political Response to the Gulf Coast Oil Spill

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Louisiana Congressman Charlie Melancon, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Photograph courtesy of MMS.

Three weeks after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, with hundreds of gallons of oil still flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman plan to roll out their climate and energy bill, which includes provisions to expand offshore drilling and cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. In the meantime, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announces plans to divide the responsibilities of the Minerals Management Service, the agency that oversees offshore drilling.

“Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said in an interview that the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill raises serious concerns about the safety of offshore energy production. Still, he said the climate bill that is set for rollout at a 1:30 p.m. EDT press conference [today] with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) reflects their long-standing plans to grow the domestic supply of oil,” GreenWire reported.
The congressmen originally said they would unveil the bill before the disaster, but after their only Republican co-sponsor, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, pulled his support because focus shifted to immigration reform, and then the rig catastrophe occurred, they postponed. Now they’re ready to go.
It’s still unlikely that Republicans will support the Senate’s climate and energy bill, despite the fact that offshore drilling remains a part of the proposal and the EPA will no longer have some of its power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act if the legislation passes.
“House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement that the Gulf crisis could lead to ‘more environmentally-responsible development of America's energy resources.’ He touted a Republican bill that called for nuclear power and more renewable energy resources, but then added a note of caution: ‘Now is not the time for new government-mandated limits on the production of American-made energy,’” according to an article in ClimateWire.
Still, it seems inevitable that the event will influence energy policy. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said as much to industry executives yesterday when congressmen and women questioned officials from BP, Transocean, and Halliburton, the three companies that involved with Deepwater rig operations. “This incident is affecting, will it have impact on the development of energy policy for this country,” she said, according to NPR.
The story went on to explain that “also coming under criticism was the federal agency responsible for oversight of offshore drilling, the Minerals Management Service, a part of the Department of the Interior. The agency has long been criticized as being too cozy with the industry. Critics also say MMS has a built in conflict of interest because it collects revenues from oil drilling, some $13 billion last year, while also being charged with overseeing environmental compliance and safety. Yesterday Interior Secretary Ken Salazar outlined a plan to separate those functions.”
“I believe the job of ensuring energy companies follow the law and protect the safety of their workers and the environment should be independent from MMS’s leasing revenue collection and permitting functions,” he said.
The department is drafting that plan, which came as a relief to many, especially those who remember reports of the agency being “caught up in a wide-ranging ethics scandal — including allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct,” in 2008, according to The New York Times.

The Senate climate and energy bill may have only a slim chance of passing unless the public shows widespread support for the legislation, which appears to be growing in light of the oil spill. At least the MMS’s conflicting interests won’t be mixed like oil and water.


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