Salazar “Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic” Says Babbit

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Former Department of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt ripped on current Secretary Ken Salazar’s plans to reform the beleaguered Minerals Management Service over the weekend. “I think Salazar is basically rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic,” Babbitt, who served as secretary for eight years under Bill Clinton, told Platts Energy Week.

In the weeks since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, the Minerals Management Service has been blasted for years of lax oversight that likely contributed to the disaster. Salazar announced an overhaul of policies of the department last month, shortly after splitting MMS into separate divisions to oversee revenue collection and regulation. The head of MMS was pushed out as well as attention to the agency’s failures grew.

But Babbitt says splitting the department doesn’t go far enough. “You can walk down the hall and the environmental regulation will be a different office in the same agency,” said Babbitt. “I think we need much more basic structural reform.” Environmental oversight of offshore drilling should be handled by a separate agency altogether that can serve as an independent regulator, possibly the Environmental Protection Agency.

Babbitt also served on the presidential committee that Jimmy Carter created in 1979 to review the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. Babbitt said he thinks the Gulf spill is “very comparable” in terms of serving as “a defining industrial accident,” one that creates opportunity for meaningful reforms.

While the risks of drilling have increased as oil companies moved from land, to shallow waters, to deeper and deeper drilling sites, the regulatory process has not kept up, he said. “The industry has been essentially self-regulating,” said Babbitt, and the changes and restructuring that are needed should be a top focus as President Obama’s oil spill commission looks at the current disaster.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest