Govt. agency collects billions from industry it is supposed to regulate
<Update: Congress does not have to approve the administration's proposal to split the Minerals Management Service, The New York Times reports.>
The Obama administration finally is taking action to address the too-cozy relationship between the oil industry and the federal government's main oil drilling oversight agency. Interior Sec. Ken Salazar plans to ask Congress to split up the Minerals Management Service to keep royalties collection separate from oversight, according to the Associated Press.
The MMS, which issues drilling permits to oil companies and must oversee their drilling operations, also collects some $13 billion in royalties from those same companies. Clearly a conflict of interest, says an administration official.
Since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill started two weeks ago, the MMS has been criticized for letting British Petroleum get away with drilling under risky conditions without an adequate plan to prevent or clean up after a blowout. Similar arguments are being levied in federal court by Earthjustice to keep MMS from letting Shell Oil drill this summer in fragile Arctic Ocean waters.
Also this week, it was revealed that the administration has given oil/gas companies 27 exemptions from having to do serious environmental reviews of proposed drilling plans in the gulf, including for a deep-water drilling operation by BP. All waivers were granted despite President Obama's promise to thoroughly investigate tthe gulf oil spill.
Meanwhile, the BP spill continues to gush 210,000 gallons of oil each day despite the best efforts of BP to cap it. More than 3.5 million gallons have been spilled into gulf waters and have begun soaking wildlife refuges and wetlands that are home to more than 400 species of birds and other animals. Four coastal states ae threatened.