Interior Secretary Salazar Responds for the First Time
Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, addresses the media at Gator Lake and Little Lagoon in the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in South Alabama. On his left is state Rep. Steve McMillan, a Bay Minette Republican. On his right is Robert Craft, mayor of Gulf Shores. Photo Essay
by Glynn Wilson
BON SECOUR NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, Ala. — Ken Salazar, a former Senator and Attorney General of Colorado, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the 50th Secretary of the Interior on Jan. 20, 2009 after being appointed by President Barack Obama. Less than three months later, on April 6, 2009, the British Petroleum company was granted a permit for the Deepwater Horizon, one of the deepest oil wells ever dug in the Gulf of Mexico or anywhere — without an Environmental Impact Study as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Minerals Management Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior charged with regulating the oil and gas industry, has been ensconced in a ethics scandal in recent months for cozying up to the oil and gas industry. Allegations include financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct. The agency granted BP a “categorical exclusion” to NEPA on the basis of three reviews of the area, which concluded that a massive oil spill was “unlikely,” according to government documents and the Washington Post.
Just 11 days before the explosion on April 20 that released 210,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf, creating one of the worse economic and environmental disasters ever, records show BP’s lobbying efforts were successful in expanding the legal exemption even more.
When faced with the question from me about that decision for the first time Wednesday in the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in South Alabama, during a photo op and press conference designed to show the Obama administration on the ground doing everything possible to contain the spill and its impact, Salazar talked around the fact that it is his signature on the legal exemption that caused this spill.
“There were a number of environmental studies done over a long period of time,” he said, knowing full well as a lawyer that an environmental study of one drilling area or another has nothing do with a full Environmental Impact Study, a legal requirement, for another.
“What happened here was not an issue of the environmental impact from the permitting that was given,” he claimed.
Watch the video with me asking the question at this link.
“What happened here was a huge, defective problem with the fail-safe measures that were supposed to be put into place,” he said. Multiple investigations already launched into the explosion and spill “will give us the answer to exactly what happened.”
“From the beginning of the time when oil and gas was first developed in the Gulf you have never seen this kind of a problem,” he said. Now that it has happened, though, he said, “I am committed to learning the lessons and to make the necessary adjustments that will have to be made.”
“Our eye now is on one thing. That is stopping the problem, the damage,” he said. “Our fervent vision is at the end of the day we will have a national awakening with respect to the importance of the restoration” of the importance of the environment in considering oil and gas drilling off the nation’s coasts.
“There are lots of theories out there about what cased this,” he said. “It should never have happened. BP is responsible for what happened here and BP is responsible for all of the damages that will flow from this event, which they caused as lessees of oil and gas that belongs to the American people. They will be held accountable, along with others who were involved.”
Transocean, the world’s largest offshore drilling company, was drilling the well itself, he revealed. Halliburton, the company of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who recommended the exemptions through his power as chair of President Bush’s Energy Task Force, was involved in putting the cement down in the well. Then, Cameron Products manufactured the blowout preventers.
“At the end of the day,” Salazar insisted, “we will pursue all those who were involved and are responsible for creating this issue and we will hold them accountable.”
The question now is, does the accountability include the agency charged with overseeing the industry?
Jamie Rappaport Clark, a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, another federal agency under the Department of the Interior, appointed by President Bill Clinton, came along on Salazar’s tour of the Gulf region.
“This is a very special region of the country that is incredibly biologically diverse, from the fisheries to the nesting sea turtles and the migrating birds going through right now,” she said. “So we’re very concerned about the impacts of this significant environmental disaster.”
She said the Obama administration has deployed its top officials to try to get a handle on what’s going on, so “time will tell,” Clark said. “But we have some serous questions to ask ourselves as a country. Is this risk worth it?”
She doesn’t doubt that the spill was an “accident,” she said. “But we can’t accept that accidents happen when its going to impact resources and an economy as significant as this region.”
As for a grade for the administration’s handling of the crisis, Clark said, “I think the jury’s out.”
Some conservative Republicans have tried to make the claim that the BP Oil Spill of 2010 could be Obama’s Katrina, but when asked about that, she said, “Absolutely not.”
“The response has been quick,” Clark said. “They have an all-hands-on-deck attitude for sure.”
This disaster is of proportions that we haven’t seen before, she said. “We will be bearing witness to environmental impacts for a long time. We need recovery, restoration, restitution and accountability, and we need to not replicate this.”
A Steward Jones Video/Interview by Glynn Wilson
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