Washington - Two U.S. senators filed legislation today to once-and-for-all end the cozy relationships between the oil industry and the federal agency that regulates drillers.
Recent investigations at the Minerals Management Service of the U.S. Interior Department have shown that employees there engaged in sexual relationships with oil industry representatives, accepted gifts and trips from them and easily won jobs with the companies. An inspector general's recent report issued just yesterday revealed there was a revolving door between MMS employees and the oil industry; MMS employees accepted gifts from companies they regulate; and, some of the employees falsified inspection forms. http://www.billnelson.senate.gov/news/IGreport.pdf
Such activities would be treated harshly under the legislation by U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Bill Nelson of Florida. A drilling regulator who made any kind of false statement, for instance, could face up to 15 years in prison under their bill.
Said Menendez: "The more we learn about the safety oversight of oil drilling, the more it becomes clear that for many years the federal regulators have been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Big Oil. When a regulator is lured by immediate or future financial gain, the industry is able to ignore safety rules. The only foolproof way to prevent oil spills is to transition ourselves off of our dependence on oil, but until that day, we have to make sure the cop on the beat isn't actually on the take."
Said Nelson: "We don't need our public servants serving Big Oil. The conduct in this agency is at least indirectly responsible for what is becoming one of the country's worst disasters."
The Menendez-Nelson legislation - called the Stop Cozy Relationships With Big Oil Act - would ban public employees at Interior from taking oil industry jobs for two years after leaving the government. It also would make it a felony for oil and gas regulators to knowingly accept a gift from industry. And it would increase the penalties to 15 years in prison for oil and gas regulators making fraudulent statements or false representations.
A summary of legislation follows, as does the lawmakers' letter today to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, which also is attached in pdf form:
The Stop Cozy Relationships With Big Oil Act would:
• Prohibit regulators from simultaneously doing work for the oil and gas industry.
• Make it a felony for regulators to work for the industry within two years of leaving their government job.
• Make it a felony for an oil and gas regulator to knowingly accept a gift from industry.
• Require financial disclosure for senior oil and gas regulators (GS-13 or higher).
• Prohibit regulators from owning stock or other interests in the oil and gas industry.
• Increase the penalties for oil and gas regulators making fraudulent statements or false representations, to 15 years in prison from the current 5 years in prison.
May 26, 2010
The Honorable Ken Salazar
Department of Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240 Dear Secretary Salazar:
After a review of the most recent inspector general's report we have concluded the public interest is no longer best served by the Minerals Management Service.
The report, released yesterday, comes in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and similar findings in an inspector's report two years ago. In a nutshell, it found MMS inspectors accepted free trips paid for by an oil company, conducted inspections while looking for jobs in the oil industry, submitted forms detailing inspections of oil and gas platforms that had been filled out by the company's personnel, and engaged in other inappropriate conduct including hundreds of instances of exchanging pornographic images on government e-mail.This conduct - illustrating a cozy relationship between drilling regulators and Big Oil - has indirectly contributed to the most disastrous environmental accident in our nation's history.
In light of these findings, we understand you are placing employees on administrative leave and instituting new ethical standards.
Meantime, we wish to inform you we're filing a tougher version of legislation originally introduced two years ago aimed at once-and-for-all closing the revolving door in the regulatory offices of the Interior Department. More specifically, our bill would ban public employees at Interior from taking oil industry jobs for two years after leaving the government. It would make it a felony for oil and gas regulators to knowingly accept a gift from industry. And it would increase the penalties to 15 years in prison for oil and gas regulators making fraudulent statements or false representations. We are hopeful the U.S. Senate will act quickly to pass this legislation aimed at stopping this incestuous relationship between the oil industry and the regulators. We want to etch this into law so there are no questions about the ethical standards for our public servants.
A copy of the legislation is attached.
Robert Menendez and Bill Nelson