Did regulatory corruption lead to environmental tragedy?May 5, 2010
On September 12, 2008, when the outcome of the Presidential election was still very much in doubt, I wrote a post asking whether the new President would interact ethically with the powerful oil and gas industry. It gave me chills to realize today that my 2008 post cited a report from the Inspector General’s Office criticizing a branch of the Department of the Interior for operating in a “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” that allegedly involved accepting gifts from oil industry representatives, having sex with energy industry employees, and rigging contracts to favored firms. That branch of Interior was the Minerals Management Service … the government agency responsible for overseeing offshore drilling.
Today, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., President of the Waterkeeper Alliance, reports in The Huffington Post that, in 2003, the Minerals Management Service opposed a proposed requirement for acoustic switches on offshore oil rigs that might have prevented the oil spill currently fouling the Gulf of Mexico. The alleged reason for the agency’s recommendation was that those switches “tend to be very costly.” Kennedy further states that, in 2005, the Bush Administration’s energy bill officially dropped the requirement for acoustic switch-off devices on offshore rigs because the oil industry’s drilling practices were allegedly “failsafe” without them. Somebody clearly got that wrong.
I work hard to keep this blog non-partisan because I believe there are decent, ethical people at every point in the political spectrum, and business ethics shouldn’t belong to any political affiliation. But I also think it’s essential to point out that regulators of any party tend to do a lousy job when they’re in bed figuratively and, in this case, perhaps literally, with the industries they’re supposed to oversee. Kennedy’s allegations are serious and, if true, deserve wider consideration. In the hope that a broader airing of the past will lead to better practices in the future, I’d encourage you to check out Kennedy’s article here.
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