Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Regulators Calls the Gulf Disaster an “Incident”

Minerals Management Service is a division of the Interior Department of the US government. Its purpose is to manage and regulate the people’s resources that lie in offshore American waters.  On the main page of its website it lists important current issues in a column on the right side of the page. Number one is an announcement that Secretary Salazar has approved windmills for Cape Cod. Number two is something entitled “Deepwater Horizon Incident”

For those of you who are confused the “Deepwater Horizon Incident” is also known as the unprecedented disaster that is pumping unmeasured amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Destroying Fisheries and bird breeding estuaries. Devastating tourism and disrupting shipping throughout the gulf and into the Mississippi river.  That's quite an incident.

I would hope that title proves some rhetorical point regarding the MMS’s attitude towards maintaining even the bare minimum of regulatory responsibility. I won’t hammer it into the ground because I think that off the cuff remarks reflects the heart of their true attitude. Do they really think millions of Americans are bringing up their webpage to see photo ops of the Interior Secretary announcing the sale of yet more leases in the gulf? This kind of asleep grasp of the facts cannot be explained by mere incompetence alone. I think it shows the cozy, just kidding attitude that the US Government takes in all its regulatory relationships.

Clearly, Interior and the MMS is not the only agency with a hands off attitude to the corporations they allegedly regulate. The FED, SEC and Treasury are still bailing out the recent financial meltdown. Commerce and its agencies are so afraid of offending China and the American Retail corporations that stores are still filled with dangerous Chinese imports. The list goes on and on. Washington creates regulatory agencies staffs them with sheltered workshop incompetents and patronage appointments and they go blithely on regulating no one and nothing.

American bureaucracy has failed by inability or by design to manage any of the issues set before it. This failure is exceeded in history only by the multilayered impotence of the French just prior to the “incident of 1789”. But even by these standards the Interior department is an appalling example. Under its watch, taxpayers build roads so lumber companies can cut trees in the last remaining virgin forests. Coal companies blast the tops off of 500 Appalachian Mountains using the equivalent of a Hiroshima load of explosives each and every week of the year. Oil companies destroy economies and environments and get hit with pathetic little fines and apologetic reminders to follow safety regulations.

Now mind you MMS regularly posts misleading press statements that would lead you to think they are aggressively pursuing violators. Those press releases pass the smell test about as much as a gulf beach covered in dead fish. From release to release they change the parameters and they never mention enough in one statement to get a full picture. You have to hunt for the same data on the same events and try to do your own analysis. The closest they did to full disclosure of their true impact on violators was in an April 2008 release # 3806. There we can learn that in the period “Between August 1990 and January 2008, MMS initiated 623 civil penalty reviews that resulted in 498 civil penalties. Operators have paid a total of $18,591,792 in fines.” Eighteen million in fines over 18 years for an industry that require almost 3 regulatory reviews a month? Fines were reviewed in 2008 and set at the rate of $35,000 per incident. With oil revenues in the billions of dollars, once can assume that fines such as this would not even show up on their income statements due to rounding limits.

By the way on the page specifically for the gulf region MMS has another important announcement directly beneath the “incident’ – this vital message? – “2010 offshore industry safety awards postponed”. You just cannot make this stuff up – it’s pathetic.

No my friends, these are not guard dogs of the nation’s resources. The MMS and the Interior department like most regulatory agencies have been so neutered as to be mere accessories to the corporate press offices. Their guiding regulations and authority has been so diminished as to make it clear what the government wants from them. Trouble free reports and hands off investigations so the corporate campaign funds keep rolling in. Happy rich corporations mean happy cash laden lobbyists and that means reelection and kickbacks. Our government’s loyalties lie with the industries they are charged with monitoring and not with the American public.

MMS website

MMS press release

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