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Rachel Maddow: Oil Regulation A Broken System

Rachel Maddow reviews just how broken our system is when it comes to any oversight or regulation of the oil industry from Senators protecting their in
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Rachel Maddow reviews just how broken our system is when it comes to any oversight or regulation of the oil industry from Senators protecting their interests to the corrupt MMS (Minerals Management Service). I'm with Rachel and her conclusion here:

MADDOW: Who else thinks the Minerals Management Service should just be torn down completely? Show of hands. Who else thinks this entire part of the Interior Department should be torn down completely and rebuilt from the bottom-up? Show hands.

Mine's up. The MMS has been nothing but one big revolving door with the industry it's supposed to regulate. The time is long past due to clean them up. If President Obama actually cares about doing that, he'll put someone besides Ken Salazar in charge.

MADDOW: There is some breaking news tonight on the B.P. oil disaster and the government‘s response to it. NBC News has learned that on Thursday, the day after tomorrow, President Obama will announce tougher safety requirements for offshore oil rigs. This is according to a senior administration official. This is a result of 30-day review of offshore drilling procedures that the president announced after the Deepwater Horizon disaster started more than 30 days ago. Among the administration‘s plans are a stronger inspection regime for rigs.

Now, as the B.P. oil disaster continues unabated in the Gulf, you may recall that because of legislation passed after the Exxon Valdez disaster, oil companies are by law to required pay $75 million in damages in the event of a spill. Democrats led by Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey have been trying to get rid of that liability cap ever since the B.P. oil disaster happened.

The first time they tried to get rid of it, Alaska‘s Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski, blocked it. The second time they tried to get rid of the oil company liability cap, it was Senator Jim Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, who blocked it.

And now, given what we are going through in the Gulf, Democrats have made a third attempt to get rid of the limit on oil company liability in terms of paying for what they spill. And again, Senator Jim Inhofe has blocked it, explaining that if oil companies have to pay too much of the cost of their own spills then small oil companies, you know, little mom and pop oil companies, won‘t get into the kind of drilling that‘s likely to cause great big expensive oil spills.

Again, this is Senator Inhofe‘s argument for what he‘s doing. It‘s not the argument against it. This is why he thinks it‘s a good idea to have limits on how much of the cleanup oil companies have to pay in the event of a spill because he doesn‘t want little companies to have to pay more than they can afford when they spill. He wants you to pay for it. You and me, the taxpayers.

If the government is sticking up for the oil industry in such a blatant way seems strange to you, it‘s possible that you haven‘t been paying attention to the relationship between our government and the oil industry in recent years.

The Minerals Management Service at the Department of the Interior was the most famous part of the Department of the Interior even before the current B.P. current oil disaster. It was famous because of a report from the inspector general during the Bush administration that found a, quote, “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” in the program at Minerals Management Service that dealt with collecting royalties from oil and gas companies. The report found that MMS employees did drugs together, including the now infamous snorting of crystal meth off a toaster oven. It also found that nearly a third of the employees in the MMS office in question took gifts from the oil companies they were supposed to be regulating and that some MMS employees were quite literally in bed with the oil companies and some of the time, they weren‘t just sleeping.

President Obama‘s secretary of the interior took office pledging to shut down that specific office that became so infamous. And after the B.P. oil disaster started, Ken Salazar further promised that he would split up MMS agency altogether. Secretary Salazar‘s plan is to turn the Minerals Management Service essentially into three different sub-parts. The safety and enforcement of offshore drilling will be handled by one bureau. Another bureau will handle offshore oil drilling leases.

And the snorting meth off a toaster oven royalties division of the MMS would be given over to a third office entirely. It would be housed in an entirely separate division of the Interior Department from the other two former MMS offices.

Progress, right? Splitting all this stuff up. Except there‘s another inspector general‘s report out today also detailing behavior at the department during the Bush era. It shows that another part of the MMS, not the royalties part, but the actual safety inspections part was also fecklessly corrupt, totally in bed, although this time figuratively, with the oil industry.

And again, there‘s that crystal meth. What is it with the Interior Department and meth? In this case, quote, “An MMS clerical employee told investigators that she began using cocaine and methamphetamine with an inspector when she started working at the MMS.” During the inspector‘s interview with investigators, the inspector in question initially denied using meth but ultimately did admit to it, explaining, quote, “He had never possessed or used crystal methamphetamine while at work but admitting that he might have been under the influence of the drug at work after using it the day before.”

While he was grinding his teeth down into cheese. Yeah, maybe sometimes I would still be under the influence of the night before. Would that be a problem if I‘m doing safety inspections of oil rigs? Like their friends at the royalty in kind meth off the toaster oven office, the folks at the MMS district office in Louisiana who were supposed to be working on safety and inspections, they were very accustomed to accepting gifts from the oil industry that they were supposed to be overseeing, gifts including jobs in the oil industry. In a 2008 email to an employee of the Island Operating Company, an oil and gas production company that he was supposed to be regulating, one MMS inspector wrote this, quote, “I‘m excited about coming back to work with IOC. Do you think an IOC official would go with $65,000 a year? And all the trimmings you told me about.”

That inspector later accepted that position that was being discussed in that e-mail. Once the investigators figured out that that what was going on, they looked up his record as an inspector. It turns out he continued to inspect that same company even after it became his prospective employer.

Get this—before he started gunning for the $65,000 a year job with all the trimmings with this company, this inspector had found 16 instances of noncompliance and 47 inspections. OK? He inspected the company four more times after the job negotiations had begun and guess how many violations he found then? Guess. Guess. Yes. None.

In an environment in which the cops and robbers are that much in cahoots, you also get stories like this one, detailed in the report. “A confidential source told investigators that some MMS inspectors have allowed oil and gas production company personnel on the platform to fill out inspection forms. Oil company personnel completed the inspection forms using pencils, and MMS inspectors would write on top of the pencil in ink and turn in the completed form.” And that‘s called oversight.

So, the problem is not just with one part of the MMS and the snorting meth off the toaster oven and the shtooping the oil industry lobbyists and employees. This is a totally different part of the MMS. And when it‘s more than one part of the organization and more than one office, you can no longer call the first one a rogue office.

Perhaps this is an appropriate time to bring up what happened with President Bush‘s secretary of the interior. The secretary of the interior when a lot of what I have described is going on. Her name was Gale Norton. She was Mr. Bush‘s interior secretary for his entire first term and half of his second term.

Gale Norton resigned in 2006 and immediately went to work for Shell Oil. The Justice Department made it known last year that they were investigating whether Ms. Norton hooked up her future employer, Shell Oil, with some lucrative federal oil leases right before she took that job with them. Memo to apple regarding tree, relative distance from. Who else thinks the Minerals Management Service should just be torn down completely? Show of hands. Who else thinks this entire part of the Interior Department should be torn down completely and rebuilt from the bottom-up? Show hands.

Brown pelican, you want to raise your wing. I‘m sorry. You can‘t lift your wing because of all the—because all of the oil? I‘ll count you anyway.

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