Political appointees urged rollback of Deepwater Horizon-inspired safety regs over staff objections: report

Political appointees urged rollback of Deepwater Horizon-inspired safety regs over staff objections: report

Political appointees at the Department of the Interior overruled staff objections to a rule that eased offshore drilling regulations, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday

The report has already spurred a congressional request asking the agency to turn over its rulemaking documents.

Scott Angelle, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), reportedly told engineers working on the policy to delete language from memos that showed their opposition.

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The rule changed safety regulations for offshore drilling, including how often safety equipment must be tested. 

Documents reviewed by the Journal show career employees wanted “no change to the testing frequency” of safety equipment and that staff “does not agree with industry” that well pressure could be sufficiently monitored with just those working on the rig, casting away an Obama-era rule that required offsite monitoring as well. 

The memos were later updated without any indication that Angelle had ordered the policy changes, according to the Journal.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-A.Z.) sent a letter to the BSEE late Wednesday asking it to turn over a number of documents relating to the rule change, including communications between career leadership and staff.

"As the Journal shows, this administration is willing to create rules favorable to a specific industry and manufacture the appearance of support from career staff and agency experts. This raises the question of whether DOI political appointees have interfered in other rulemakings or doctored the administrative record in other instances," he wrote.

The BSEE did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a spokesman for Angelle told the Journal that the rule “was created after an internal deliberative process that is well reflected in the Bureau’s internal deliberative documents.”

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“It is unfortunate that anyone would try to argue otherwise using leaked documents that failed to reflect the entirety of the process. The final rule advances America’s energy independence while maintaining the highest safety standards of environmental protections,” he said.

The safety regulations rolled back by the BSEE were a response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that left millions of gallons of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.

The BSEE has already been sued for the rollback, with green groups arguing the Trump administration did not provide adequate justification for scaling back rules that were previously found to improve the safety of offshore drilling for both rig workers and the environment.

Updated at 5:54 p.m.