Ken Salazar names new chief for scandal-plagued MMS

As we reported several moons ago in a Westword feature entitled "The Zen of Ken," one of Ken Salazar's first official acts as Secretary of the Interior was to visit the Lakewood office of the Minerals Management Service and vow to clean up the place. The obscure but vital agency, which collects billions in royalties for oil and gas leases offshore and on federal lands, had been rocked by charges involving cocaine use, graft, sexual liaisons with energy company execs, sweetheart deals and faulty audits -- all of which seemed to embody the larger ethical crisis in Interior under the Bush administration (see "Crossing Over," from last fall).

Six months into his term, Secretary Salazar has finally named a new director for MMS: Liz Birnbaum, an attorney with an extensive background working with congressional committees, including the powerful House Committee on Natural Resources. Birnbaum had worked previously in Interior at the Solicitor's Office -- an area that's had its share of conflicts of interest, too, when Gale Norton ran Interior, as detailed in my 2005 report "Grazin' Hell" -- but Birnbaum was hitting the exit at that office just as Norton was taking charge.

Read more about Birnbaum here. Whether she can transform MMS into the "foundation for a clean energy economy" Salazar and Obama keep talking about is anybody's guess, but she probably can't pump out any dirtier product than the agency managed in the Bush years.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast

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