The Spill, The Scandal and the President

The inside story of how Obama failed to crack down on the corruption of the Bush years – and let the world’s most dangerous oil company get away with murder

A revealing article in Rolling Stone points out how Obama and Salazar did nothing to reform the well known corruption at MMS. It is expected that industry will try to cut as many corners as possible but the culture at the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service did nothing to curb the corruption of gas and oil companies and instead facilitated the current destruction of the Gulf of Mexico.

“Bush owns eight years of the mess,” says Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican from California. “But after more than a year on the job, Salazar owns it too.”

This kind of culture isn’t restricted in Interior to just the MMS but also in the BLM, and US Fish and Wildlife Service. There is a war on the landscape of the West by the BLM and the US FWS is trying its hardest to avoid protecting imperiled species by listing fewer species that are in real trouble than the Bush Administration did.

“Employees describe being in Interior – not just MMS, but the other agencies – as the third Bush term,” says Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which represents federal whistle-blowers. “They’re working for the same managers who are implementing the same policies. Why would you expect a different result?”

Again, I think it is time for Salazar to be replaced with a real reformer such as Raul Grijalva.

The Spill, The Scandal and the President.
By Tim Dickinson – Rolling Stone Politics


  1. monty Avatar

    To expect Obama, in his first 500 days, to clean up the mess that Bush left him is a little harsh. Although Obama may not be the “enviromentalist”, that I had hoped he would be, I don’t believe that Al Gore, given todays politics, could have done any better. Unfortunately it always takes a crisis to change direction.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      I strongly disagree, Salazar was chosen specifically because he was a westerner and would be palatable to those interests who want the continuation of policies which allow them political control over policy of Federal Lands use. He has always been ill suited for the position he finds himself in and it was well known at the time of his appointment that the MMS was a cesspool of corruption and that it needed special attention. That attention was not given and the policies of the Bush Administration continue to thrive under this Administration in Interior.

      I supported Obama but I have always had serious reservations about his environmental bona fides and those reservations were seriously increased once he announced that he would put a rancher into the Secretary of Interior position. It was a bad choice and he was told as much at the time. The chickens are coming home to roost on this decision which turns out to be a continuation of Bush policies. We desperately need a change.

    2. Ken Cole Avatar

      How long does it take to make these kinds of changes anyway? They were issuing Categorical Exclusions right up until the day of the explosion.

    3. MJ Graham Avatar

      I agree with Ken, here. Obama appointed Salazar, not Bush. Once that appointment was announced, any environmental credibility that Obama may have had with me went out the window. And, it should not take 1 1/2 years to facilitate change. Action on endangered species is slower now than under Bush.

  2. Dave Avatar

    I agree with Ken. Monty obviously didn’t read the article before commenting.

    What a disgusting, revolting, and vile bunch of examples of government failure!!! I am definitely beginning to understand why Salazar must go…

  3. JW Avatar

    Read this article, Obama = the best Environmental Pres since Teddy Roosevelt? Wow… Am I missing something…

    1. Linda Hunter Avatar

      Well . . really he sure doesn’t have too much to live up to does he? Look at what we have done to this country in the last 200 years. I don’t think we have ever had an environmental federal government or are we likely to.

  4. Ken Cole Avatar

    Here’s another quote from the article that should raise some eyebrows:

    “A top-to-bottom restructuring of MMS didn’t require anything more than Ken Salazar’s will: The agency only exists by order of the Interior secretary. “He had full authority to change anything he wanted,” says Rep. Issa, a longtime critic of MMS. “He didn’t use it.”

  5. jburnham Avatar

    Good article, thanks Ken.
    I think this quote sums it up quite well.

    “The tale of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is, at its core, the tale of two blowout preventers: one mechanical, one regulatory. The regulatory blowout preventer failed long before BP ever started to drill – precisely because Salazar kept in place the crooked environmental guidelines the Bush administration implemented to favor the oil industry.”

  6. JimT Avatar

    We all knew when Salazar was appointed he was a supporter of the mining industry, oil and gas exploration, and ranching interests. Given these loyalties, it is hardly surprising that he didn’t take on changing the entrenched culture of one of the sub agencies who has literally been in bed with its regulated community members. For him, successful management meant no more ‘scandals’, and I think Obama was on board with that low expectation. In all fairness to Obama, while to us these are not abstract ideas but the life we choose to live, he is not an environmentalist, and has had substantial crises on his plate, one after another, until I am beginning to think he is either the second coming of Job, or he is that character in Lil Abner who always had the dark cloud hovering over his head, raining on him.

    That said, he has been surprisingly listless in his reaction to this spill, and the notion we would go back to deepwater drilling at all, or that coastal drilling would continue in the same fashion. I find that unacceptable, and he should be told by all factions in the environmental Commmunity that in clear, bleak, terms.

    Salazar should suspend the permitting of all wells, period. He should initiate a thorough review of the MMS permitting process, run by not his handpicked toadies, but by the Inspector General or an independent counsel. Most of the problem does lie with the 8 years ( and earlier..Clinton was no Environmentalist; he was a shrewd opportunist who used the big gesture to win points), but Ken and the article are correct in asserting that in the year plus since Obama took office, NOTHING has been done by Salazar to address the shortcomings at BLM, MMS, USFWS, etc.

    This is sad to say but maybe true: It may be impossible to truly reform a bureaucracy, whether it be public or private. Politically, as much as some of us would like to see MMS, Wildlife Services, BLM, blown up, and reformed with new people, it isn’t going to happen. There will be some regulatory nibbliing at the edges, perhaps some operational shifting …permitting to NOAA, perhaps…but they may just be behemoths that are too big to fail…A very sobering thought.

  7. JB Avatar

    Teddy Roosevelt may have done the most for conservation by protecting federal lands, but it was Richard Nixon who signed most of the regulatory laws that protect our environment and natural resources today.

    1. JimT Avatar

      JB, it was actually Congress working together, both sides of the aisles, that made those laws happen. Presidents rarely veto major legislation, especially when it is addressing the images of rivers on fire…VBG.

      I suspect if he had known what a powerful weapon NEPA has been for environmentalists, however, he would have vetoed that.

    2. JB Avatar

      Jim, I don’t disagree. The ESA, BTW, passed with more than enough votes to override a veto by the president. However, it would be nice to see a Democratic president step up and do more for the environment then talk.

    3. JimT Avatar

      I agree about needing more career activists in these positions of leadership instead of the tired old Western politician model or the centrist fence sitter. Obama did have his chance to allow his transition team to do the right thing, but Dennis Hayes gummed up the works. From what I have been told, IF there were positions offered to career advocacy folks, they were junior level positions and they would be buried two or three levels down from the Secretary. Maybe, if there hadn’t been so many crises to handle, Obama could have been persuaded to pay attention to more Western issues. I will tell you..there was enough pressure brought on by the Obama team during the campaign on environmentalist to deliver for Obama his campaign staff knew our concerns and the issues..high level folks. Guess we got our rears handed to us once again. Thing is the tired old saw…the alternative is much worse.

  8. Chris Harbin Avatar
    Chris Harbin

    I have not yet read the article posted but I will. However, I went out of town for a few days and I was really shocked that so many people still patronize BP Stations. I realize the fuel they serve is more than likely not even BP produced; however, it is one way in which to demonstrate your feeling is to shop with your feet.
    Sorry to interject.

  9. Izabela Hadd Avatar
    Izabela Hadd

    Salazer needs to go. I wonderwhy Mr.O. still keeps him..and of coursethe guys has no integrity to resign..
    I was chaning oil in my car and ask if they are usingBP products. The mechanic at Subaru said..this crap..they would never keep BP products..go Subaru..

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    There were a lot of hands that went into this disaster, but it is good to finally see some focus on Salazar’s complete failure to reform MMS. It is good to see some focus on matters other than the massive gusher.

    It is notable that of the 129 people on the platform, only 8 were BP employees. 4 were from Cheney’s old company, Haliburton. 79 were from TransOcean.

    Does anyone remember all the pretty BP television ads, pretending that BP stood from “Beyond Petroleum.” BP and ads for other oil companies helped soften up America with a complacency that deep water drilling was terrific stuff, cutting edge, and safe.

  11. malencid Avatar

    How far down in MMS do we have to go before we reach civil service employees? Also how many of the people were left over from the Busch administration? Obama, after 16 months in office is very slow to replace Bush appointees.


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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Ken Cole