In the wake of the worst American offshore oil disaster in decades, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is scrambling on several fronts to address the perception that his administration has been more occupied with eco-spin than actual environmental reform.
Having announced a plan to split the Minerals Management Service, the agency responsible for overseeing offshore drilling, into separate environmental enforcement and royalty collection entities, the Secretary is now bringing in another Colorado boy to oversee the restructuring: Chris Henderson, the former investment banker and chief operating officer of the Hickenlooper administration whom Salazar appointed last year as "recovery czar," in control of the DOI's $3 billion in stimulus funds.
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Henderson is a University of Colorado grad (summa cum laude, if you please) who's used to dealing in the kind of staggering sums of money that MMS collects as tribute from energy companies seeking to drill on federal lands or offshore waters. (Next to the IRS, MMS is the feds' largest source of domestic revenue.) He joins DOI assistant secretary Rhea Suh in spearheading Salazar's plan to raise environmental standards and emphasize "best technology and cutting edge science" at MMS.
No easy task, in light of the agency's troubled history of cozy relationships with the industry it's supposed to regulate. But the larger economic issues around the offshore drilling debate might also deserve some scrutiny from a man as familiar with the capital markets as Henderson. The above graphic accompanied a recent article in The New Republic by Salazar's old chum Al Gore that uses the Deepwater Horizon debacle as a launching point to question the entire assumption that offshore drilling somehow strengthens our "energy security." The actual amount of oil coming from expanded drilling is, as the illustration indicates, not all that significant in the scheme of our energy addictions.
Henderson might want to cogitate whether the venture makes sense -- or dollars and cents -- compared to the environmental costs of the current crisis. But that's somewhere down the road. Right now the challenge at hand is how to make lemonade out of an oil slick.