Salazar wants drilling safety chief who can handle heated political atmosphere

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar appears to be under no illusion that Capitol Hill attacks on the department’s offshore drilling branch will cease any time soon.

Salazar told reporters Friday that candidates for Interior’s newly created Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) must be able to handle the heated politics that come with the turf.

“The reality of it is there are some people in this Congress who play politics with some very serious issues,” Salazar told reporters Friday. “And it’s very important that in this kind of an agency that you have someone who is very strong and can call the balls and strikes.”

He said political rhetoric “has to be called out for what it is.”

Salazar spoke to reporters a day before Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) formally splits in two, completing the restructuring of Interior’s long-troubled offshore drilling oversight prompted by the BP spill.

Salazar and Michael Bromwich, his top offshore drilling regulator, have since last year been battling Republicans, oil-state Democrats and industry groups unhappy with the pace of offshore drilling permits.

Bromwich, who directs BOEMRE, has frequently criticized what he calls unfair and inaccurate depictions of offshore permitting.

Bromwich will be the interim head of BSEE until a permanent director can be found. He told reporters Friday that some candidates have already turned the job down due to the white-hot politics of the drilling issues.

“A couple of quite qualified candidates specifically said they didn’t want any part of the politics,” Bromwich told reporters at Interior headquarters.

BSEE will, as its title suggests, enforce safety and environmental rules, while the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will manage resource development matters such as leasing, environmental analysis and review of oil industry exploration plans.

Tommy P. Beaudreau, who is a senior adviser to Bromwich, will head BOEM. Bromwich recruited him into Interior from the firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, where they both worked.