Why the Breakup of MMS Won’t Work

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Why the Breakup of MMS Won’t Work

Interior Itself Part of Problem; Broader Solutions Required

Washington, DC — The breakup of the U.S. Minerals Management Service announced yesterday by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar only papers over deeper problems and impedes real solutions, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Independent review and presidential leadership will be needed to create functional, mission-driven regulatory and revenue structures.

Yesterday, Sec. Salazar broke MMS into three new entities (the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue) answering directly to two different assistant secretaries of Interior. This approach is flawed because:

  • Conflicts between resource protection and promotion are merely elevated, not eliminated, as the new entities are supervised by political appointees with energy and revenue production mandates;
  • The same managers will be relocated to implement the same policies that led to the disastrous BP blowout and spill from the Deepwater Horizon rig; and
  • Scientists, engineers and other specialists inside the former MMS will remain vulnerable to political countermands and retaliation. The plan has no mechanism to ensure that evidence of problems will not again be suppressed.

“This hurried reorganization is a panicked palliative, like rearranging the deckchairs on the Deepwater Horizon,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The Interior Department and its Secretary are both parts of the problem requiring outside intervention.”

PEER points to the erratic leadership of Sec. Salazar who has repeatedly said that “energy independence” is his “top priority” at Interior, sending the strong message that protecting natural resources is secondary, contrary to the statutory mission of the agency. In late March, Sec. Salazar ignored both internal and external warnings about deficient spill prevention and response capabilities in endorsing major expansion of offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

Significantly, specialists within MMS with firsthand knowledge of the breakdowns have not been consulted. The key Interior decision-makers have extremely limited experience with the issues, a deficiency rationalized as “bringing fresh eyes” to the situation. Sec. Salazar has been resistant to seeking out former whistleblowers or other reformers who know “where the bodies are buried” in the deeply dysfunctional Interior Department.

PEER has been working with current and former MMS employees who believe that solutions cannot be found solely inside Interior, urging, for example, that transfer of environmental and safety functions outside of Interior to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, respectively, should be seriously studied. The U.S. Treasury should review taking over the collection of oil and gas royalties (the second biggest source of federal revenue next to the income tax) due to the long history of under-collection and collusion within Interior.

“Interior cannot fix itself; we need an independent review,” added Ruch. “Righting this ship will require presidential leadership, including a hard look at his own Cabinet.”


See the MMS breakup order 

Look at Interior’s tone deafness to spill warnings

Examine continuing suppression of eco-reviews in Interior

View some MMS policies that block effective review

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