The Obama administration's ever-shifting damage figures and containment strategies for the mess in the Gulf -- not to mention the ever-spewing oil -- have disenchanted many former admirers of the President. Now a scathing dive into the disaster in the latest Rolling Stone blasts Obama and particulary his Secretary of the Interior, our own Ken Salazar, for fiddling while the sea burns.
The 8000-word piece by Tim Dickinson makes a pretty compelling case that Salazar and company did little of substance to "clean up" the scandal-plagued Minerals Management Service and actually compounded the problem by using expanded offshore drilling as a political bargaining chip to push other aspects of Obama's energy agenda.
Here's a taste of the drubbing that Salazar himself gets:
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"Salazar did little to tamp down on the lawlessness at MMS, beyond referring a few employees for criminal prosecution and ending a Bush-era program that allowed oil companies to make their "royalty" payments -- the amount they owe taxpayers for extracting a scarce public resource -- not in cash but in crude. And instead of putting the brakes on new offshore drilling, Salazar immediately throttled it up to record levels. Even though he had scrapped the Bush plan, Salazar put 53 million offshore acres up for lease in the Gulf in his first year alone -- an all-time high. The aggressive leasing came as no surprise, given Salazar's track record ... As a senator, Salazar not only steered passage of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which opened 8 million acres in the Gulf to drilling, he even criticized President Bush for not forcing oil companies to develop existing leases faster."
The last point may be a bit misleading. There was, in the Bush years, a legitimate problem with energy companies locking up leases, and even speculating in them, when they had no intention of developing them; but that was on the land side ofthe Department of Interior, as explained here.
Lest anyone accuse RS of piling on in the current crisis, it's also worth pointing out that Dickinson did a tough but admiring piece on Salazar shortly after he took office. But the landscape--and the seascape--has changed a lot since those heady days.