Monday, March 22, 2010

Drillgate: Department of Interior cover up

When Congress lifted the 27-year-ban on offshore drilling in September 2008, many were skeptical if Barack Obama would actually allow for exploration if he ended up winning the election. Those doubts have proved to be well-deserved.

Any federal agency will undergo a "public comment" period when undergoing a a rule change such as that. That part of the process had already started by the time Obama was inaugurated. "Ken Salazar, Obama’s new Secretary of Interior, determined the decision about new offshore drilling was so important that he ordered a six-month extension to the comment period," writes Vince Haley on Haley, Newt Gingrich's former research director and current head of Renewing American Leadership, quotes Salazar a couple of months into the new administration saying that Obama sought “to make sure that we have an open and transparent government," adding “these are not decisions that are going to be made behind closed doors.”

Short of "maximizing the opportunity for the public to give us guidance on what it is that they want to do," as Salazar put it," Interior has yet to release the count -- even though the comment period ended five months ago. As could be surmised, the number of pro-drilling comments was much higher than those against. In fact, 530,000 comments were submitted. Roughly 350,000, or 2/3, favored the expansion of drilling; of those, "American Solutions alone delivered 90,358 pro-drilling comments, one of the largest submissions for a single organization."

Sensing something was fishy, Newt's 527, American Solutions began to request information about the tabulation, which wrapped up on September 25. A month later, after no results were released but "sources [indicating]" that the comments were already counted, the group filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. On that same day, a spokesman for the Minerals Management Service (MMS) said a "detailed breakdown" would be released soon.

Two weeks later, MMS says they do not have the final count and, in the words of American Solutions, say "the request was too large and asked for justification why releasing the information was in the public interest."

With nothing coming forth, a month after that "transparent" replay, American Solutions "filed a second, more specific, FOIA request with MMS explaining why it was in the public's interest to release the information." Ten days later, the agency says they will respond by January 19th -- only to push it back again using a 10-workday extension as the excuse.

Finally, MMS released internal e-mails, one of which Tyler writes about:
In an email dated October 27, 2009, Liz Birnbaum, director of the Minerals Management Service, informs other Interior officials that a preliminary tabulation of the results of the comment period had not yet gone to Secretary Salazar, adding “[s]o the Secretary can honestly say in response to any questions that he’s [SIC] has not yet seen the analysis of the comments -- staff is still working on it. I did, however, confirm to him the 2-1 split that these guys [at American Solutions] are emphasizing.”

That shows that the cover up began almost instantly after the early results came in.

Still, the day after the damning e-mails were released, MMS denies having a final tally, and claim that is the reason it has not been released to the public.

A second bath of documents were supposed to be released due to the FOIA request, but American Solutions' website says: "MMS wrote to American Solutions that it had taken a five business-day extension for processing the second half of the documents requested by the FOIA, due to inclement weather that had closed down federal offices. The letter was sent six days after MMS had promised that the documents would be delivered." Two days later, the agency says the papers in questions will be released "as soon as possible."

On the very next day, in a seperate matter, MMS informs the Justice Department they missed "a court-ordered environmental analysis of drilling in Alaska. The assessment began a year before and is required to be completed before any new drilling can begin in the Beaufort, Bering, and Chukchi seas."

In the latest news surrounding Drillgate, American Solutions filed another FOIA request on March 2nd after confirmation that public comments ran 2-1.

This is another example of how government runs. Does anyone want this style of bureaucracy deciding when and where -- and even whether -- a life-saving operation will occur?

No comments:

Post a Comment

This page is not affiliated with any political campaign or party.

  © Blogger template Webnolia by 2009

Back to TOP