Grijalva: Deepwater Horizon Showed Why We Need Strong Offshore Drilling Enforcement – GOP Shouldn’t Weaken It Now

Washington, D.C. – Ahead of tomorrow’s 2:00 p.m. Eastern hearing on a Republican proposal to study recombining the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), among other measures, Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) highlighted the long track record of mishaps, ethical lapses, and lack of enforcement that led to the agencies’ split in 2010 and the continued need for an agency dedicated to a clear safety mission. Recombining BOEM and BSEE, Grijalva said, would invite another generation of abuses of the sort that led to the Deepwater Horizon spill, which occurred on the watch of BOEM and BSEE’s predecessor agency, the Minerals Management Service (MMS).

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has indicated that he is considering recombining BOEM and BSEE as part of his unrevealed reorganization plans for the Interior Department.

Under the George W. Bush administration, MMS became notorious for conflicts of interest, widespread collusion, and drug-fueled partying with industry figures who sought looser environmental and workplace regulations. After the Deepwater Horizon spill, the safety and enforcement mission was split off and turned into BSEE, while BOEM was formed to handle offshore leasing and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) was created to handle revenue collection.

Michael Bromwich, the Democratic witness at tomorrow’s hearing who served from June 2010 through the end of December 2011 as the country’s top offshore drilling regulator and oversaw the formation of BOEM, BSEE, and ONRR, will testify that a recombination “is not just a profoundly bad idea that would be unnecessarily disruptive for the agencies and the industry and for which no clear case has been made, but it is also a dangerous idea that would significantly raise the risk of a catastrophic offshore accident.”

“This bill is an industry handout in a bad disguise,” Grijalva said today. “Repeating the mistakes that gave us the Deepwater Horizon explosion, especially in the name of deregulation, would be a dereliction of our congressional duty. This is a solution in search of a problem and it needs to be defeated.”

At tomorrow’s hearing, Bromwich will recount his experiences upon joining the Interior Department’s offshore program shortly after the Deepwater Horizon disaster:

I learned of the various ways that agency priorities had historically been distorted by having the three separate missions combined in a single agency [MMS].  I learned most specifically about how the bias towards developing offshore resources and generating revenue had stunted the development of the agency’s regulatory and enforcement capabilities.  Candidly, I was shocked by the lack of aggressiveness – and the shortage of resources – that had been allocated to the development of appropriate regulations and enforcement.

The Republican bill under consideration at tomorrow’s hearing – titled the Accessing Strategic Resources Offshore Act – is a discussion draft and has no official sponsor.

Other provisions of the bill would result in a giveaway of more than $9 billion to four coastal states, allow the Secretary of the Interior to hold oil and gas lease sales off any part of the U.S. coastline at any time, eliminate the president’s ability to create marine national monuments, and repeal an Arctic drilling safety rule that incorporates lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon and Shell’s two recent failed drilling attempts in the Arctic Ocean.

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