During President Obama’s comments today on the progressing BP oil fiasco in the Gulf, there was an exchange of words between the POTUS and a reporter posing an inquiry:
Q: On April 21st, we were informed by Admiral Allen that the government had dispatched equipment immediately to the gulf. It was also mentioned on that day that you understood the urgency of the situation. However, 39 to 40 days later, you are apparently still rushing equipment towards the disaster. There are still regions of the coast unprotected, and we are curious to know the reason as to why it is taking such a long time? We are also wondering if you truly did act from the very first moment for a direst outcome.
Obama: “The question of how is it that oil companies kept on getting environmental waivers in getting their permits approved. Well, it turns out that the way the process works, first of all, there is a thorough environmental review as to whether a certain portion of the Gulf should be leased or not. That is a thorough-going environmental evaluation. Then, the overall lease is broken up into segments for individual leases, and again, there is an environmental review that is done. But when it comes to a specific company with its exploration plan in the one particular area – they are going to drill right here in this spot – Congress mandated that only thirty days could be allocated before a yes or no answer was given. That was by law. So, MMS’s hands were tied. And as a consequence, what became the habit, predating my administration, was you just automatically gave the environmental waiver, because you could not complete and environmental study in thirty days.”
Obama’s declaration that the MMS has just 30 days to endorse a particular oil organization’s grant, and hence the agency’s “options were limited” became the focal point of this inquiry. Obama is alluding here to 43 USC § 1340(c)(1) which says, to a limited extent,
Before investigation occurs to any oil and gas lease issued or maintained under this subchapter, the holder must present an investigation plan to the Secretary for validation. The Secretary will require such changes of such arrangement as are important to accomplish such consistency. The Secretary will validate such arrangement, as submitted or changed, within thirty days of its accommodation, but the Secretary will oppose such arrangement on the off chance that (A) any proposed action under such arrangement would bring about any condition depicted in segment 1334(a)(2)(A)(i) of this title, and (B) such proposed action could not be changed to stay away from such condition.
And now we proceed onward to 43 USC § 1334(a)(2)(A)(i) which expresses that:
Proceeding with action as per such lease or permit would likely reason genuine distress or harm to life (counting fish and other aquatic life), to property, to any mineral (in regions leased, as well as those not), to the public security or safeguard, or to the marine, seaside, or human environment.
So while Obama is right that Congress expected MMS to approve or disapprove plans within 30 days, the MMS unmistakably could not oppose a leasing plan if there is a finding that such an arrangement could “cause genuine harm to life” and so on. The inquiry asked whether there were dangers to the climate and laborers drilling in 5,000 feet of water and 13,000 into rock completely known to government researchers? I figure the record would show that there were undoubtedly researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and different offices who raised the attention to such dangers, however their alerts went unnoticed. So, Obama gave a misleading statement (or a half-lie, contingent upon your viewpoint) since MMS clearly has discretion beyond a 30-day bondage – if the organization had tried to tune in to different researchers and not simply Big Oil. Obama needs to quickly study more about the facts of the crisis, in order to not be mistaken.