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Gulf oil spill: Mr. President, the problem isn't just MMS

The Gulf oil spill has focused attention on the Minerals Management Service (MMS). But President Obama's disregard of the environment is more important.

By Chidem KurdasGuest blogger / June 20, 2010

In this May 28, 2010 file photo, President Obama picks up a 'tar ball' during a tour of areas affected by the Gulf oil spill in Port Fourchon, La. He blames the MMS. But until the disaster, the Obama administration had also been pushing for more deep-water drilling and the environment was an afterthought.

Evan Vucci/AP/File

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In the Obama administration’s script for passing around oil-spill blame, the drilling regulator Minerals Management Service shares the stage with chief villain BP. The disaster is said to have exposed the weakness of MMS, a problem the president has now tackled by appointing a new head for the agency.

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One can understand why Mr. Obama wants to confine government failure to this little bureaucracy – long reported to be corrupt – inside the Interior Department. It is a slick move, but the hypocrisy is breathtaking and corrosive of what confidence there is in the government.

Just weeks before the Deepwater Horizon rig imploded, the entire administration and Congressional Democrats demonstrated casual disregard for the environment. In effect, they provided evidence that wheeling and dealing for the proposed climate change law creates risk of additional damage to the planet.

This March Mr. Obama proposed to open to oil and gas drilling some 167 million acres of ocean along the East Coast. Whether this decision was right or wrong – to be sure there are pros and cons – what was striking was that the environmental effects were not even given serious thought. The decision was in the main a political move to get Republicans to agree to the administration’s climate and energy bill.

Here is what the president said, about two-and-a-half weeks before oil started to spill into the Gulf of Mexico: “It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced.” This would be comical were the issue not dead serious. A 12-year-old with an internet connection could have found examples of oil rig leaks.

Let’s see. A major policy change is underway. A cabinet-level decision with immense potential consequences. On a controversial matter. There’s plenty of time to investigate the environmental effects—-this is not a new issue, Mr. Obama talked about it during the campaign and early in his presidency. The drilling rule is a compromise to pass a huge regulatory overhaul ostensibly to protect the atmosphere. Yet the environmental impact of the policy appears as an afterthought, barely given consideration.

Clearly the object is to notch another massive regulatory expansion after the medical and financial behemoths. Climate change is the excuse—but in the attempt to do a political deal, the environment was obviously not a priority. With oil gushing from the broken rig, it became expedient to tout the climate bill as a solution.

Likely we will pay for greater environmental regulation and end up with greater environmental degradation! But hey, a bunch of government bureaucrats somewhere will get sex, drugs, gifts and consultancy jobs out of their new regulatory powers—that’s what some MMS employees were doing, according to investigators.

That agency’s problems apparently never even came up in discussions about opening more of the Eastern seaboard to drilling. The concern expressed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was that MMS laxness reduced tax receipts from oil companies—not what it might do to beaches and pelicans.

These people are not stewards of the environment, their shrill protests notwithstanding. The only thing their climate bill can be is another boondoggle.

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