Here's some news that points to such shocking irresponsibility by the federal government that it is almost impossible to believe.
Since April 20, when the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers and starting an oil spill that continues to pollute the Gulf of Mexico and threaten the fragile marine and coastal environments of several southern states, the Obama administration has quietly approved 27 new offshore drilling projects.
Twenty-six of those projects were approved under the same environmental review exemption that was used to green-light the deadly BP drilling project that led to the current disaster. Essentially, those 26 projects received environmental waivers or exemptions from the Minerals Management Service (MMS), a division of the U.S. Interior Department. Incredibly, two of those approvals were for new BP offshore drilling projects, despite BP's responsibility in the current disaster and the company's poor safety record.
All this took place while emergency crews were working feverishly to stop the flow of millions of gallons of crude oil from an underwater oil well that are drifting toward the fragile Gulf Coast. And it all happened while the White House was promising to do everything necessary to ensure better safety for offshore drilling, and while David Axelrod, one of President Obama's closest advisors, was telling reporters that no new offshore drilling projects would be allowed to proceed until a thorough investigation of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill was complete.
The Center for Biological Diversity, a respected environmental group, reported the news on Friday, shortly after MMS came under fire for exempting the BP offshore drilling plan from environmental review. Reports showed that MMS had used a loophole in the National Environmental Policy Act that is intended to apply only to projects such as hiking trails, which have no, or very few, potential environmental problems. MMS drew even more criticism when it was discovered that the agency has been exempting hundreds of dangerous offshore oil drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico every year.
"The MMS has learned absolutely nothing from this national catastrophe," said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, "It is still illegally exempting dangerous offshore drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico from all environmental review. It is outrageous and unacceptable."
Reacting to the growing controversy surrounding MMS and its practice of waiving environmental review for potentially dangerous offshore drilling projects, U.S. Secretary Ken Salazar last week announced that he was banning approval of all new offshore oil drilling permits. But Salazar's announcement turned out to be little more than PR intended to turn down the public and political heat being aimed at his office.
Salazar's moratorium doesn't halt approval of drilling plans and environmental exemptions that are at the center of the problem. On Friday [May 7, 2010], the Interior Department acknowledged that it has not stopped approving environmental exemptions and drilling plans. All Salazar put on hold was issuance of a last technical check that does not involve any environmental review.
"Salazar is playing a cynical shell game, making the public think he stopped issuing the faulty approvals that allowed the disastrous BP drilling to occur, when in fact he has given MMS the green light to keep issuing those very same approvals," Suckling said. "The only thing Salazar has stopped is the final, technical check-off which comes long after the environmental review. His media sleight of hand does nothing to fix the broken system that allowed what may be the greatest environmental catastrophe of our generation to occur."
At the very least, Salazar and the MMS have shown a serious lack of judgment in exempting 26 new oil wells in the midst of an ongoing environmental and economic disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that seems to have no foreseeable end. At worst, those actions, combined with the long history of MMS exempting hundreds of offshore drilling projects from environmental review, is a betrayal of public trust that approaches criminal behavior.