Center for Biological Diversity Files Suit Over Off-Shore Drilling Permits

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In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that has thousands of barrels of oil a day gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, the Center for Biological Diversity has filed suit against the federal government to force the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service to do more environmental reviews before granting future off-shore drilling permits.

“The Gulf of Mexico has become a lawless zone where oil companies are calling the shots,” says Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson-based environmental agency that has had considerable success in forcing federal agencies to comply with the Endangered Species Act. “Our lawsuit takes issue with (Interior) Secretary (Ken) Salazar and Minerals Management Service’s blatant disregard for environmental laws.”

Congressman Raul Grijalva, the Southern Arizona Democrat who chairs the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, reiterated his opposition to off-shore drilling in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week.

“This recent disaster has only intensified my belief that expansion of deep water drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico is misguided and should be rescinded,” wrote Grijalva, who was rumored to be a candidate for the Interior secretary post in the Obama administration before Salazar was named to the post. “Absent that decision, strict enforcement and transparent oversight must be a top priority.”

We'll have more in this week's print edition.

Here's the Center for Biological Diversity's press release:

The Center for Biological Diversity today filed suit against Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar over his continued approval of offshore drilling plans in the Gulf of Mexico without environmental review. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., seeks to overturn Department of Interior policies exempting oil drilling from the environmental reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling plan was approved in 2009 under the “categorical exclusion” exemption policy, leading to the April 20, 2010 explosion that killed 11 people and caused what is likely the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Despite the catastrophe, Secretary Salazar allowed the Minerals Management Service to issue 26 new drilling approvals — all exempt from environmental review — after the explosion.

“Ken Salazar has learned absolutely nothing from this national catastrophe,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “He is still illegally exempting dangerous offshore drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico from all environmental review as millions of gallons of oil gush into the ocean. It is outrageous and unacceptable.”

“Today’s lawsuit seeks to turn Salazar’s fictitious ‘moratorium’ on oil drilling approvals into a real one,” added Suckling.

Secretary Salazar has been embroiled in controversy since it was revealed on May 5, 2010 that he allowed the Minerals Management Service to exempt BP’s offshore drilling plan from environmental review by using a loophole in the National Environmental Policy Act meant only to apply to projects with no, or minimal, negative effects such as construction of outhouses and hiking trails. The controversy deepened when it was revealed that the agency routinely exempts hundreds of dangerous offshore oil drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico every year.

“It is inconceivable that Ken Salazar could go visit what is likely the worst oil spill in American history, then continue to allow rubber stamping of new drilling permits based on the absurd claim that an oil spill cannot occur and would not be dangerous if it did. It is positively Kafkaesque,” said Suckling.

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