When President Obama picked former Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar as his Interior Secretary last year, the Coloradan donned a 10-gallon hat and dubbed himself "the new sheriff in town." But Cowboy Ken is the one who needs to be run out on a rail. In his continued quest to shut down offshore drilling, Salazar has run roughshod over scientific integrity, transparency and the Gulf Coast economy.
Two federal courts have batted down the White House-approved, Salazar-directed drilling moratorium. Outraged scientists -- appointed by the Obama administration, mind you -- blasted Salazar for doctoring their work and contradicting their conclusions to bolster his manufactured case for the sweeping six-month ban. Undaunted, Salazar conjured up a "revised" moratorium rubber-stamped by oil spill czar Michael Bromwich, who sheepishly admitted that the new ban was "roughly congruent with the original moratorium."
The sham changes would permit some drilling rigs to restart operations -- but only under onerous fantasyland testing conditions that industry leaders say would be virtually impossible to meet. In short, Salazar's "new" moratorium is a lot like Salazar himself: all hat, no cattle.
The Interior Secretary then strode into the first hearing of the presidential oil spill commission this week to tell the panelists that he wanted their work to "inform" his book-cooked deepwater drilling ban. It was, essentially, Salazar guiding the dog-and-pony-show participants to bark and neigh on command. The panelists were "stunned" by Salazar's explicit expectation of policy support, according to hearing observers, because weighing in on the moratorium had not been a part of their original mandate.
None of the panelists, conveniently enough, has actual technical expertise in deepwater drilling. So on what, exactly, can they "inform" Salazar? No doubt Salazar and his superiors at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have soaked up the online anti-drilling rants of prominent oil spill panelist Frances Beinecke. She's a leading official at the rabidly anti-corporate Natural Resources Defense Council, where she publicly called for offshore drilling bans five times over the past two months before snagging a seat on Obama's "expert" panel. NRDC was one of the leading environmental lobbying voices pushing for the commission in the first place. The eco-tail is wagging Team Obama's dog.
The good news is that not all the panelists are rolling over. Co-chairs William Reilly and Bob Graham absorbed an earful from local residents, small business owners and public officials from the Gulf region this week.
Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu decried the economic devastation Salazar is overseeing: "Even the revised moratorium will force thousands of hardworking Louisianians and others along the Gulf Coast into the unemployment lines."
Lafourche Parish (La.) President Charlotte Randolph blasted the zero-risk tolerance mentality of Salazar and Beinecke, illustrating the folly behind the offshore drilling moratorium: If "safety" demands a blanket halt to deepwater drilling, she said, then all oil tanker traffic in the Gulf of Mexico should be halted, too. "An oil tanker is a four times greater risk of spilling its cargo than an oil well blowing out," Randolph pointed out. "Tankers carrying 3 million barrels of oil traverse the Gulf daily en route to Houston." That's roughly the amount of oil BP spilled over the past three months.
After the first hearing this week, Reilly openly challenged the White House foot-dragging on 33 oil rig safety assessments, wondering "why it's going to take so long to convince people the existing rigs are safe." For his part, Graham blasted the "disconnect between Washington and the Gulf region about the sense of urgency needed."
In Washington, at least one watchdog has pegged Salazar as a crooked shooter. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Darrell Issa exposed the Interior Secretary's serial obstructionism in a letter released Thursday about Salazar's failure to comply with 45 document requests related to the feds' post-spill response. "The lack of cooperation is appalling for an Administration that prides itself on transparency and openness with the American people," Issa noted. "Indeed, it appears that the Administration is more concerned with hiding from the tough questions than answering them."
While Salazar ducks and dithers, deepwater oil drillers are canceling contracts or moving their rigs overseas -- and American jobs along with them. Diamond Offshore moved one of its rigs to Egypt. Murphy Oil Company is also moving operations to the Congo. And Bloomberg News reported that "the number of offshore rigs operating in U.S. waters has plunged 71 percent to 16 from 56 before the blowout, according to surveys by Baker Hughes Inc."
The new sheriff's in town, all right -- and he's shooting the Gulf Coast economy in the foot, head and heart. Heckuva job, Kenny.