Last week investigative reporter David Hammer published a report on how the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) appears to be sitting on their hands when it comes to performing the environmental enforcement aspect of their charge. It seems that while their budget has increased, allowing them to hire 77 petroleum engineers and geologists, they have only managed to fill two of the 12 positions open for environmental compliance staff.
Dialing back a few years the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service was split into three agencies, BSEE, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR). This split was ushered in after the BP/Macondo disaster, but was in the making due to an embarrassing revelation that Minerals Management was way-too cozy with industry. It was the cocaine-dusted panty-parties that raised eyebrows, but when the oil-spill response plans for BP/Macondo revealed contingencies for walrus mitigation in the Gulf of Mexico it was clear the agency’s rubber-stamping of industry documents had exceeded the envelope of credulity.
The break-up of the agency into three independent functions was supposed to thwart abuse of MMS conflicting and overlapping missions of safety and environmental regulations (BSEE), resource development and leasing (BOEM), and revenue collection (ONRR). But David Hammer’s report indicates that since Michael Bromwich (the steward of the breakup) left his desk a few years back, the agency’s long-term staff has been returning to their old habits as handmaidens to industry. This trend was substantiated by former training center director Chris Barry, who was told by a supervisor that “as soon as Mr. Bromwich leaves, everything will go back to the way it was.”
This sheds light on the fact that despite preponderance of opposition to offshore development in the Arctic and the Atlantic, BOEM has been acting as if offshore oil and gas is a done deal. This includes attending “closed door meetings” with industry advancing extensive and redundant seismic surveys, and despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the continued insistence by BOEM Chief Environmental Officer William Yancy Brown that these survey operations will have “no impacts on marine mammal populations.”
We got together with our colleagues at Oceana to address this “no impacts” peccadillo by lodging a Scientific Integrity Complaint against Brown with the Department of the Interior (DOI). We were chagrinned when our 156 page document citing “line, chapter, and verse” of the best available science (required for agency decisions) was summarily dismissed through a one-and-a-half page “closure letter” from DOI stating that they “found no merit to our charge.”
Not ones to shuffle back into our corner to mope we filed a request for reconsideration, cc’ing folks up the chain (DOI Secretary Sally Jewell and Solicitor Hilary Tompkins among others). Supposedly we should have heard from them by now, but given the aforementioned trend of “going back to the way it was” I get a sense that they may still be poking it with a stick to see if it’ll bite…