WILL POWER REPORT: ROCK & HARD PLACE--MINERALS MANAGEMENT AGENCY

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Nothing but the truth!

By Will Power

May 14, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) -- In the alphabet soup that makes up the Federal Government, few people have ever heard of the Minerals Management Service. But the MMS is well known to oil company executives, because for years it has operated as a sleeping watchdog while billions of dollars in taxpayer's money was pumped out the back door.

 

The MMS first surfaced a couple of years ago, when allegation of sex parties, cocaine use, and free sports tickets surfaced. The New York Times reported as follows:

 

The report says that eight officials in the royalty program accepted gifts from energy companies whose value exceeded limits set by ethics rules — including golf, ski and paintball outings; meals and drinks; and tickets to a Toby Keith concert, a Houston Texans football game and a Colorado Rockies baseball game.

 

The investigation also concluded that several of the officials “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.”

 

The investigation separately found that the program’s manager mixed official and personal business. In sometimes lurid detail, the report also accuses him of having intimate relations with two subordinates, one of whom regularly sold him cocaine.

The culture of the organization “appeared to be devoid of both the ethical standards and internal controls sufficient to protect the integrity of this vital revenue-producing program,” one report said.

These allegations were confirmed. A few 'bad apples" were fired. The MMS is responsible for collecting royalties paid by Big Oil on gas and oil removed from public lands. Needless to say, opportunities for graft and kickbacks were numerous. But MMS is also responsible for oil spills, and the recent disaster has shown the necessity to separate the safety and collection divisions to ensure taxpayers actually get their money and get it safely.

 

To say that Big Oil has been the tail wagging the dog is an understatement. The US Department of the Interior granted nearly every permit asked for during the Bush years, allowing oil and gas exploration on an unprecedented scale, often on lands that were both scenic and fragile. Roads were built to haul rigs, fences built, and pipelines proposed or built through areas of environmental concern.

 

While it is true the US needs gas and oil, we don't need to provide Big Oil with every tax break, environmental waiver, or road permit they ask for, especially when they fleece the public by underreporting their profits or bribing the MMS.

 

The MMS safety record is appalling, with the recent Gulf or Mexico spill just the latest of many concerns. What about coal mine safety? It's time to clean this agency up and make it responsive to taxpayers, not just Big Energy.

Will Power is a retired teacher who holds a masters degree in creative writing.

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine.