Grijalva questions Interior’s plan to divide offshore drilling agency

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is putting new pressure on the Interior Department over its plans to overhaul the agency that regulates offshore oil-and-gas drilling, arguing they may not go far enough.

Grijalva, in a May 13 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, called plans to divide the functions of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) a “step in the right direction” but added that several questions remain about the effort.

MMS oversees offshore exploration activities and also collects billions of dollars in production royalties.

Salazar is creating a new agency that will house what had been MMS’s inspection, investigation and enforcement operations, which will now be separate from leasing and revenue programs.

But Grijalva’s letter questions why the leasing function, which involves a number of environmental reviews, will not be housed in the new agency.

He also asks about several other issues, including MMS’s use of “categorical exclusions” that allow some drilling projects to avoid full environmental studies under the National Environmental Policy Act.