The Tantrum of the Oilmen

Diane Arbus – Boy with hand grenade

If it wasn’t otherwise abundantly clear, the splurge of Executive Orders (EO) over the last two weeks confirm that the US President has handed the reins (or should I say “handed the reign”) of the executive branch over to the Oilmen.

The wind-up was “Executive Order 13777, Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda” issued on April 10, which instructs new EPA head Scott Pruitt to paw through environmental regulations to make sure they don’t interfere with short-term economic priorities.

Although last week the Administration brought out a couple of zingers: The instruction to eliminate the widely successful and appreciated “Energy Star” program takes away consumer’s ability to prioritize their purchases based on energy efficiency – effectively de-prioritizing energy efficiency in all manufactured goods – from dishwashers to office buildings. (The beneficiaries here are, of course, those who “produce” the energy.)

And the latest Executive Order “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy” instructs the various agencies that have jurisdiction over the Outer Continental Shelf to ostensibly eliminate “regulatory interference” with offshore oil and gas exploration and production. This EO covers a lot of ground and attempts to get the Department of Interior, The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy on the same page in terms of environmental protection, safety, and national security – with the objective of “streamlining” regulations. (We’ll see how that goes…)

Of particular concern to us is Section 10, instruction The Secretary of Commerce [to] review NOAA’s “Technical Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammal Hearing…[and] take all steps permitted by law to rescind or revise that guidance, if appropriate.”

The “Technical Guidance” refers to a set of noise exposure guidelines that have been in the making since 2005. Developed through much research, many stakeholder workshops, and quite a number of public reviews, in 2016 we arrived a set of guidelines that are more-or-less acceptable to industry, scientists, the public, and the US Navy. All of this work threatened with a stroke of a pen…

But as I mentioned in another venue, these Executive Orders were signed by the President of the United States, not the Emperor of the Entire Universe, so there are procedures to follow. The cases for eliminating the regulations need to be justified, and those justifications need to be reviewed by We the People – who are both subject to the regulations, and “owners” of the subjects of the regulations.

To me this thrashing away at environmental regulations, guidelines, and infrastructure invokes nothing so much as a three-year-old little boy having a tantrum because he is not getting his way. “If it is not MY way, I will SMASH everything!”

This s not to say that damage won’t be done: This little boy is quite large. But in the end there are a lot of adults in the room, and the Oilmen are not getting their way for a reason. At some point they will be put to bed and the rest of the world can return to an adult conversation about managing our relationships with our global habitat.

By the way, one of the first opportunities to comment is on the “Executive Order 13777, Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda” (where at this time there are about 40,000 comments that need to be considered…). Your thoughtful comments will go far in setting our long-term regulatory agenda.