Political statements for the Gulf matter
When members of Congress want to figure out whats really going on in the Gulf these days, itseasy to tell if they just want to make political statements or get to the truth of the matter.
This week, political statements ruled the day. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, turned tradition on its head by first trotting out Gulf politicians and businessmen intent on bashing Obama administration oil drilling policies. The man responsible for ensuring drilling safety was allowed to speak — last.
The hearing,Making the Gulf Coast Whole Again: Assessing the Recovery Efforts of BP and the Obama Administration after the Oil Spill,couldinstead have been called Making the Oil Industry Whole Again: How the Obama Administration Put Safety BeforeProfits.
Mississippi Gov.Haley Barbour was the lead witness, and he didnt disappoint. The former energy industry lobbyistmade it clear where his priorities were,telling the committee this was an economic disaster, not an environmental one.; The governor even blamed the media for making oil-coated wildlife look like “chocolate pelicans.” And Barbour emphatically told the panel all seafood testing so far has found to be safe whilethe beaches of Mississippiare all clean and clear.
Thats not exactly what some people are reporting in the Gulf. Turtles and dolphins and a plethora of dead animals and fish have been washing up in high numbers on Mississippi beaches. Red Snapper with lesions are being found by scientists off the Gulf Coast with bacterial infections that could be harmful to humans. Andmy NRDC colleagues Gina Solomon and Miriam Rotkin-Ellman have repeatedly blogged about the serious deficiencies in government seafood testing programs.
But Barbour raised eyebrowswhen he insisted thata massive accident the size of theDeepwater Horizon blowout was worththe risk of drilling more than 30,000 oil wells in the Gulf so far. The risk of 1 in 31,000 is worth taking when youre talking about something thats so important to the economy of the United States of America.
When Rep. William Lacy Clay asked if this was a dangerous policy, Barbour swatted that aside. The industry tries to prevent accidents and protect people because its expensive when they dont… I’m against excessive regulation.
But Barbours risk-taking wasnt very reassuring to the last person to speak, Michael R. Bromwich, Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). Bromwich presidential oil spill commission pointed out that the bi-partisan had reported 79 serious loss of well control incidents in the Gulf since 1996.
Another way to describe that is 79 near misses, 79 almost Deepwater Horizons.to say the risk was one in a million or one in X thousand of deep water wells drilled is not accurate. Now we will never be able to reduce the risk to zero, We know that and you know that. But we have to work constructively to try to diminishthose risks in a balanced way so we dont impose inappropriate high costs on industry and yet we do raise the bar on safety. Weve done that.
As lawmakers bombarded Bromwich with questions about the economic impacts of his new safety rules regulations,one stood out from the pack. Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH) asked Bromwich if the safety agency considered loss of economic activity as part of its drilling permitting process. An incredulous Bromwich responded, I dont think it would be appropriate for them to scrutinize, plan and permit application for any other reason than to determine whether they are complying with the applicable regulations.
Safety concerns also seemed less important to Chairman Issa, who singled out operators of the Deepwater Horizon as industry bad actors behavinglike a drunken sailor. But Bromwich countered that this was far from an isolated oil industry problem but a systemic one, as the presidential oil commission pointed out, and that BPs partners Halliburton and Transocean also provide support services for many rigs across the Gulf. NRDC President and presidential oil spill commissioner Frances Beinecke also hammered that home in this blog.
Perhaps angered that he couldnt penetrate the steely armor of the BOEMRE director, Issa tried one last probe, attackingNRDC as a “radical organization” for suingthe government.
Issa: The question for the Department of the Interior is, if you settle one more time with a radical environmental group that sues and then gets settlements leading to regulatory changes or areas off limits, dont you have a conflict of interest?…
Bromwich: First of all, I think the characterization of NRDC as a radical environmental organization.
Issa: They sue
Bromwich: is not accurate. But secondly, we have to make litigation judgments, the Solicitors office has to make litigation judgments about whether to settle cases or not. Without going into details of settlement discussions, there are settlement discussions ongoing and I will tell you that one of the goals of such settlement discussions is to prevent more radical injunctions or actions being taken by the court
This was one moment I felt proudsitting ina hallowed hearing roomofCongress. Despite objections from a lawmaker,a senior government official wasdefending the rights of organizations toforce federal agenciesto comply with their ownregulations.
Now thats a radical concept.
Source: Huffington Post