Offshore drilling faces actual review instead of a rubber stamp

The Obama administration said Monday that it would require significantly more environmental review before approving new offshore drilling permits, ending a practice in which government regulators essentially rubber-stamped potentially hazardous deepwater projects like BP’s out-of-control well.

The administration has come under sharp criticism for granting BP an exemption from environmental oversight for the Macondo well, which blew out on April 20, killing 11 workers and spewing nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The more stringent environmental reviews are part of a wave of new regulation and legislation that promises to fundamentally remake an industry that has operated hand-in-glove with its government overseers for decades…

You can guess who’s the hand and who’s the glove.

Drillers are already chafing under a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the gulf and strict new rules on shallow-water wells. The new environmental rules provide a foretaste of what the regulatory climate will be once the moratorium is lifted later this year. The House and Senate are moving legislation that will tighten regulatory standards for offshore drilling and put a higher multibillion-dollar limit on liability for damages from any future oil spill.

The administration is moving on a parallel track. After three months of review of federal environmental law, the White House Council on Environmental Quality on Monday recommended that the Interior Department suspend use of so-called categorical exclusions, which allow oil companies to sink offshore wells based on environmental impact statements for supposedly similar areas, while the department reviews the environmental impact. Permits for the Macondo well were based on exemptions written in 1981 and 1986. The waiver granted to BP in April 2009, as part of the permitting process for the doomed well, was based on the company’s claim that a blowout was unlikely and that if a spill did occur, it would cause minimal damage.

The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, recently renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, issued hundreds of these exemptions in recent years to reduce the paperwork burden for oil companies seeking new wells and for government workers. As a result, there was no meaningful plan in place to cope with the BP spill and its impact on aquatic life and gulf shorelines.

This is the how and why that Mussolini always said that fascism should be called corporatism.

When the state and federal governments say nothing more than “how high” whenever corporations say “jump” – the result as defined by most legislation from Congress, rolled out in practice via regulatory agencies from the Interior Department to the SEC – is eventual disaster.

The cost in context, in environment, in jobs, in degradation of lifestyle and standing for working people and the middle class is exactly what you should expect. At least, if you ignore the lies of our politicians and collaboration of the press.

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