There wasn't anything overtly partisan or ideological about the Deepwater Horizon crisis in 2010, but it didn't take long for the disastrous oil spill to get caught up in a sad political dispute. It started in earnest when Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologized to BP after the oil giant's blowout, and it continued a year later when congressional Republicans targeted regulators' budgets.
The Obama administration nevertheless imposed new safeguards on the industry in the hopes of preventing the next Deepwater Horizon. Though it didn't generate a lot of attention, the Washington Post noted yesterday that the Trump administration is scaling those safeguards back.
At the request of the oil companies, on the Friday before New Year's Eve, the administration softened a pair of rules enacted in the wake of the 2010 BP spill.The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) published new regulations for what's called the production-safety-systems rule, which addresses devices used during offshore oil production. The agency also moved to water down the well-control rule, which is intended to prevent the kind of blowout that killed 11 workers.
According to Trump's Interior Department, scaling back the safeguards will reduce "unnecessary burdens" on the energy industry, saving oil giants hundreds of millions of dollars.
About a month after his inauguration, Donald Trump spoke at CPAC and assured conservatives, "We will not answer to donors or lobbyists or special interests."
No, of course not. Perish the thought. Who would be so cynical as to think the Trump administration would care one bit what donors and lobbyists and special interests want?
A separate Washington Post piece explained that the Obama-era rules, created after the 2010 crisis, haven't been completely eliminated, but the industry's obligations have been minimized with changes "favored by drillers."
The proposed rule unveiled Thursday, for example, eliminates a requirement that safety and pollution prevention equipment be inspected by independent auditors certified by the BSEE. A bipartisan presidential commission established after the disaster had recommended such inspections.Instead, under new regulations, oil companies will use industry-set "recommended practices" for ensuring that safety equipment works -- as was done before the Deepwater Horizon incident.Recommended practices by industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute "are simply that -- they make recommendations but don't require anything," said Nancy Leveson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who served as a senior adviser to the presidential commission. "The documents are filled with 'should' instead of 'must,' " she noted in an email.
It's worth pausing to appreciate from time to time that this is what the American electorate -- 46% of it, anyway -- ended up voting for in 2016. Voters may not have fully realized this at the time -- few were probably thinking, "We really should water down safeguards intended to prevent the next Deepwater Horizon" -- but like so many other issues, this is what the public ended up choosing when Americans put Trump and his team in power.