By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The front page story in today's New York Times, which revealed how the Obama administration ignored the warning of its own scientists when granting oil companies permission to drill in the Gulf of Mexico, should not be dismissed. It is a major scandal confronting the president, and how he reacts will say much about him.
An Interior Department spokesperson said, rather lamely, that after eight years of Republican rule, when former energy company lobbyists ruled the roost at Interior, the new administration has been working to change the culture there. Not working hard enough. Among the wells that were allowed to proceed without the required permits, the Times said, was the Deepwater Horizon rig.
I caught a lot of flak last week for suggesting that we would be better served by rolling up our sleeves, and combating this disaster, than by spending all our time pointing fingers. Now it seems that there is more than an oil spill that needs cleaning up.
Surely the two former U.S. senators who top the new chain of command--Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar--knew when they took over, along with everyone else in Washington, that Interior was a dysfunctional and corruption-plagued department in need of a good sweeping.
The big question to be answered is whether Obama's own policy of supporting offshore drilling was a reason for the department not doing its job in the Gulf, or whether he and Salazar just didn't have the gumption to pick a fight with the energy industry, and the bureaucrats at its pet agency. Neither option makes the president look good.
The Minerals Management Service (MMS) "seems to think its mission is to help the oil industry evade environmental laws," an environmentalist told the Times. This is not news. Thus has it ever been. And Salazar and Obama need to answer why, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned MMS that its policies were endangering the Gulf, and that it needed to make corporate giants like BP get the required permits, Interior dropped the ball.
There is no reason why the Interior Department has to slog on, year after year, in mediocrity and corruption. There is no reason why Americans should not have a professional, top-notch group of administrators guarding our natural resources. It takes will, and leadership. Obama needs to demonstrate he has these qualities.