Sheldon Whitehouse Lists the NEPA Exclusions

At yesterday’s Environment and Public Works hearing on the BP disaster, Sheldon Whitehouse asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Council on Environmental Quality Chair Helen Sutley why BP had been exempted from doing an Environmental Impact Study on the Macondo drilling site. He listed a number of things that should categorically exclude a project from receiving such an exemption. Two of those almost certainly applied to this well.

  • Areas of high seismic risk or seismicity, relatively untested deep water, or remote areas
  • Utilizing new or unusual technology

In response, Salazar spoke about how much we know about that area.

Senator, there has been significant environmental review, including Environmental Impact Statements that has been conducted with respect to this activity in the Gulf of Mexico. It is an area where we know a lot about the environment, we know a lot about the infrastructure that is there. The question of the categorical exclusion in part relates to the Congressional 30-day requirement that MMS has to approve or disapprove an exploration plan.

You think Salazar knows he’s going to be held responsible for all the exemptions approved since this disaster?

In any case, here’s how much BP knows about the area:

An emergency response plan prepared by BP shows the British energy giant never anticipated an oil spill as large as the one seeping through the Gulf of Mexico.The 582-page document, titled “Regional Oil Spill Response Plan — Gulf of Mexico,” was approved in July by the federal Minerals Management Service (MMS). It offers technical details on how to use chemical dispersants and provides instructions on what to say to the news media, but it does not mention how to react if a deep-water well spews oil uncontrollably.


In a section titled “Sensitive Biological & Human-Use Resources,” the plan lists “seals, sea otters and walruses” as animals that could be impacted by a Gulf of Mexico spill — even though no such animals live in the Gulf. [emphasis]

Sure, we know a lot about the environment. We just have some crazy belief that the walruses have decided to vacation on the Gulf of Mexico.

58 replies
  1. klynn says:

    I do not know where to begin with the arrogant level of irresponsibility by both Salazar, BP and the Cheney Energy task force. Perhaps being forced to live on one of the now polluted GC barrier islands, for the rest of their lives, would be good compensation for the losses due to their irresponsibility.

    • BoxTurtle says:

      That’s a good idea for Salazar, he hasn’t really broken any laws but he needs to suffer the results of his decisions. I would also add that he must pay pre-spill price for his home, so he can experience the more of the effects.

      For BP, run ’em through bankruptcy court and distribute the new stock to the victims of the spill. Throw their executives in jail, preferably a nice new one built on the islands. Be sure they get plenty of ventilation, so they can enjoy that fresh sea air.

      Boxturtle (Yes, I know the above is legally impossible. But I’m feeling populist today)

      • klynn says:

        Thanks. I needed the populist company!

        I just cannot get over the crappy boilerplate execution of a report that clearly had no emergency response plan what-so-ever or impact based resourcing on the eco risk assessment or human health risk assessment.

        Wonder if that ERP was sourced out to a consulting firm? My guess would be, “Yes.” Would not want to be that firm right now.

        • BoxTurtle says:

          Wonder if that ERP was sourced out to a consulting firm? My guess would be, “Yes.” Would not want to be that firm right now.

          I shall now disclose to you one of the great secrets of contracting. I’m probably supposed to kill you after I do so, but I can’y find my copy of the policy manual.

          Let’s say BP signs a contract for an environmental assessment from Joe’s Environmental Assessments and Oil Drilling Supplies. The first thing Joe does is bring in a bunch of subcontractors for the various parts.

          It is the job of the SUBCONTRACTORS to be responsable for any mistakes. THey typically have little actual cash for judgements. But they know that if they cover for Joes errors, they’ll get more work from him.

          So Joe takes their work product and gets the answers that BP wants. Everybody gets paid.

          Now it blows up (out?). BP says we hired Joe and we acted on his recommendations. Joe says I wrote up the report in accordance with the data from the subcontractors. The subcontractors say “We got $200 in the office coffee fund, go ahead take it”.

          End result: BP walks. Joe’s reputation is still good because the subcontractors took the blame. Joe gets more work from BP, and farms it out to the same Sub’s under different names, since he knows they’ll cover for him.

          Boxturtle (The smart man invests in Joe’s. His product is always in demand)

          • klynn says:

            Well, your information is not new to me. Live with this reality every day in the environmental risk field. But I disagree that a subcontractor of a consulting firm did this ERP. Unless, it was part of a small business initiative with one of the larger Enviro engineering firms, then yes, a sub could have done it. I still think, “No.” on this one.

            Wish I could state more about why I think so.

            • BoxTurtle says:

              But I disagree that a subcontractor of a consulting firm did this ERP.

              Actually, so do I. I wouldn’t be a bit suprised to discover that the assessment done was pro-forma, if done at all. That’s why I suggested looking for the folks who actually collected the data.

              Boxturtle (pro-forma means they updated the boilerplate. And the data collectors are all named Smith)

    • thatvisionthing says:

      I do not know where to begin with the arrogant level of irresponsibility by both Salazar, BP and the Cheney Energy task force.

      And the Supreme Court, for God’s sake, for letting Cheney secrecy stand, and Scalia specifically for refusing to recuse himself from that decision.

  2. TarheelDem says:

    “seals, sea otters, and walruses”

    BP discovers the miracles of boilerplate overdocumented environmental impact statements and the deliberately understaffed and compromised agencies tasked to read them.

    It must be part of their “global cooling scenario”.

  3. barne says:

    Just a few more of these nonsense BP “emergency response” plans could blow any liability caps to shreds. Unless the cap issue is allowed to fall into corrupt hands.

  4. Tom in AZ says:

    He should be held responsible, for not cleaning house from day one when he got there.

  5. BoxTurtle says:

    Burnt by boilerplate text! I bet if we looked hard enough, we could find the original report that they’ve been copying for the last 20 or so years.

    If a congresscritter was interested in an inconvienent question, it might enquire if any of the people who obtained the data for the gulf of mexico report were available. This is NOT the same as asking for the author.

    If anybody has access to the original presentation, check the metadata for the original date and such. If they missed the boilerplate, they surely missed the metadata.

    Boxturtle (Feingold/Whitehouse 2012)

    • scribe says:

      Beat me to it on the boilerplate.

      I once worked for the plaintiffs on a products liability case where the product was a vehicle. The defense counsel sent us interrogatories asking us about the defective soda bottle (back in the days of returnable glass soda bottles, exploding soda bottles were prime source of defective products cases). So we answered, honestly, “none”, “nothing” and whatever else was accurate. Humiliated the crap out of defense counsel when they filed their motions to compel and such.

      Lawyers having fun.

    • bobschacht says:

      Burnt by boilerplate text!

      I think this was part of the status quo ante: We’ll (BP) pretend to write environmental impart assessments, and you’ll (MMS) pretend to read them.

      Bob in AZ

  6. Leen says:

    60 minutes special on BP oil spill is so important

    Whitehouse “relatively untested deep water”

    “the novelty of using this technology at this depth”
    “obviously they went into scramble mode”
    “made up as they went along”

    Great image. Containment over the Capitol

    I am the Walrus lyrics
    “I am he as you are he as you are me
    and we are all together
    See how they run like pigs from a gun
    see how they fly
    I’m crying
    Sitting on a cornflake
    Waiting for the van to come
    Corporation T-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday
    Man you’ve been a naughty boy
    you let your face grow long”

    • damagedone says:

      The CBS clip should be part of required viewing in business management classes. Ignoring warnings signs when the safety features show something is wrong because of concerns over short-term profits goals – classic suboptimal decision making. It is difficult for middle managers to stand up to top level management when they are demanding profit results. Future mid-level managers should pull this video when pressured by top management – if that is what happened.

  7. bmaz says:

    From the continuing excellent work at Alabama Live (Birmingham News)

    In its 2009 exploration plan for the Deepwater Horizon well, BP PLC states that the company could handle a spill involving as much as 12.6 million gallons of oil per day, a number 60 times higher than its current estimate of the ongoing Gulf disaster.

    In associated documents filed with the U.S. Minerals Management Service, the company says that it would be able to skim 17.6 million gallons of oil a day from the Gulf in the event of a spill.
    It says dispersants will be able to sink 6,080 to 7,600 barrels per day into the Gulf.

    A safety data sheet about the principal dispersant that the company has reported using during the ongoing spill says “no toxicity studies have been conducted on this product,” and labels “the potential human hazard: High.”

    The equipment section of the response plan’s worst-case scenario chapter does not offer any source for fire boom. Burning, which requires such boom, is considered a primary response option for large spills in the Gulf, and its use was pre-approved by the government in 1994. The Press-Register has reported that in the days after the spill, federal officials had to purchase a boom from a company in Illinois to conduct the first test burn.

    The BP plan contains two websites detailing locations where response supplies are stored on the Gulf Coast. One of the addresses directs the user to what appears to be a Japanese social networking site. Using the same address with the “.org” suffix rather than the listed “.com” leads to a spill response company

  8. MadDog says:

    OT – More on HIG from the Los Angeles Times:

    New interrogation unit aids in questioning Times Square bomb suspect

    The Pakistani American accused of trying to bomb Times Square has been questioned with the help of a new interrogation unit that replaced a controversial CIA program dismantled by President Obama, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

    …The new unit that has been assisting in Shahzad’s questioning is known as the High-Value Interrogation Group, or HIG. It was activated several months ago and is staffed mainly by personnel from the FBI, CIA and Defense Department, according to senior administration officials who on Tuesday provided the fullest description of the unit’s procedures to date. They were not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity…

    …Because of concerns about CIA personnel being involved in domestic law enforcement, its personnel assigned to the HIG only advise FBI and other agencies when suspects are being held on U.S. soil, a senior official said.

    But if a detainee is being held by a foreign government, the CIA “may participate in the questioning,” the official said…

    • Leen says:

      And on the NPR piece this morning they did not even whisper about some of his reasons.

      U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan. Sure they will not allow anything else out about his reasons for such violent behavior. NPR did not even get close to touching root reasons. Focused on the Jamaican Iman

      Part of the why.
      “And, everybody in Pakistan is upset by the continued US Predator drone strikes on Pakistani soil by covert operatives and sometimes by Blackwater-Xe contractors. (President Obama unwisely joked about the Predators last Saturday; it is not a joking matter in Pakistan). I have long worried about the unforeseen consequences of the Predator strikes, which are illegal in international law and done as a covert operation and so outside the US democratic framework. None of this in any way excuses the bloody-minded terrorism plot against civilians in Times Square. But to simple-mindedly equate such violence with “Islam,” the religion of 1.5 billion people or nearly a sixth of humankind, and to blame it on the Qur’an, is, well, I’ll say it again: uninformed and stupid.”

    • Mason says:

      …Because of concerns about CIA personnel being involved in domestic law enforcement, its personnel assigned to the HIG only advise FBI and other agencies when suspects are being held on U.S. soil, a senior official said.

      But if a detainee is being held by a foreign government, the CIA “may participate in the questioning,” the official said…

      Translation: We’re back to torturing full time on foreign soil and advising how to torture on US soil.

  9. BoxTurtle says:

    the religion of 1.5 billion people or nearly a sixth of humankind

    But they’re scary…and brown…and they’re not REALLY human, after all.

    Boxturtle (Must wash mouth out with soap. Even as sarchasm, that tasted bad)

  10. JohnLopresti says:

    If the gulf stream entrains the oil, it still would be a stretch to contact the north Atlantic walrus++ populations in subarctic Canada, Greenland; though walruses can range 3,000 miles. MA*s Cape and NC*s Hatteras are places where the stream deflects eastward moving away from land and the outer continental shelf, into the central north Atlantic; cf. linked map supra. There are Atlantic sea otters, but few, and far from the gulf stream region; there is an interesting coastal area in ME called Otter cliff. Seal distributions, notoriously are Greenland; there is a report on a rare variety sighting last year there. I read somewhere the Deepwater Horizon EIS was 75pp. Center for Biodiversity, and Woods Hole institute both have some of germane information with regard to the 3 species mentioned in the boilerplate. There is a good program at Florida State University covering the gulf, with special focus on fish population dynamics in coral there.
    ++re: [email protected], references a confusing music composition, perhaps partly written observing Strawberry Fields.
    re: [email protected], Environmental Defense Fund has some reference experts writing on the spill.

    • Garrett says:

      A 1960 paper on southern range (they’ve been decimated, their range is reduced) says they once lived in Georgia. Of course, in them days, there was glaciers.

    • Larue says:

      Guess it all depends on who heads up them departments and who they are staffed with.

      It all comes thru an established and cozy system between private and public ‘partnerships’ kept off the books.

      Call me skeptical, at this point.

      Salazar has to go, and Obama HAS to do more, and be more involved or there will be grounds for impeachment coming down the pipe.

      At this point, I won’t be against it. The only blow job here is the industry has lobbyists sucking our elected offals, and the elected offals are sucking the industry.

      Thanks for that article.

  11. fatster says:

    “Tell me lies, tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies.” We’ll see.

    Shell promises Arctic drilling will be safe.


  12. Bluetoe2 says:

    and who is going to hold Salazar accountable? Congress? Mr. Bipartisan? The U.S. public?

  13. Bluetoe2 says:

    Salazar has never been a friend to the environment but he’s always been a friend to big business. I wonder why Obama appointed him, oh wait, never mind.

  14. runfastandwin says:

    Instead of undercutting and sniping and complaining about Obama at every turn, why don’t we try and help him? I mean it’s not like we had a choice, it was either him and Biden or McCain and Palin. Obama really does want to do the right thing, it’s just that real life requires all kinds of compromises with people that you’d rather not compromise with but have no choice other than try and work something out that’s acceptable to everyone, or end up with nothing. Nothing is always the easiest way to go, but hardly ever the right way.

    • RevBev says:

      Not a bad idea, but make your case. What positions would you support? Make your arguement. Where have you not been disappointed. Don’t just throw it out there, please.

      • onitgoes says:

        I agree. I’d like to see suggestions for how we can *effectively help” Obama. I’m willing to read real suggestions.

        Speaking for myself, I used to do more writing of emails and making phone calls, but I’ve never seen anything suggestions that I made being followed. Rather: quite the opposite.

        Yes, we didn’t have many choices; I agree. But when I see Obama and the currently Democratic led congress make not one slight gesture to actually governing in a way that really serves we, the people, and the enviroment, then what? Pushing back from the “left” has led, perhaps, to the recent primary results where some incumbents on both sides of the aisle are not coming back to Congress. I think that’s where I place my efforts.

        Unless or until I see Obama actually DO something of real service to this nation, rather than service to the corporations, I don’t have a lot to offer him – clearly. He just not that into me, that’s for sure.

        • Larue says:

          The only way we can help Obama is to take to the streets by the tens of millions, show him our middle finger, and demand he do better before this all rushes in and pins him, his admin, Dept Of Commerce, Salazar, MMS into impeachment charges filed by the Republicans.

          Only thing stopping them right now is that their folks, past and present, are as deep into the corruption that enabled this disaster as Obama or any dem’s are.

          We can’t help this guy, we can’t help this admin, we can’t help this system.

          We can only refuse to support it and strike, boycott and march in the tens of millions.

          And even that I’m not sure will change things, it’s all so corrupted top to bottom. The elites got us, badly. And they are only 1%. But they got us.

    • thatvisionthing says:

      it was either him and Biden or McCain and Palin

      Well, before Chuck Todd and NBC disappeared him, I liked hearing Gravel’s arguments.

    • punaise says:

      Heavy Sludge Oozes into Marshes of Louisiana…

      who let Haley Barbour out of Mississippi?

      • CTuttle says:

        *heh* Speaking of Haley Babooze…

        As oil continues to gush into the Gulf, Mississippi offers $75 gas cards to tourists.
        Downplaying the BP disaster, Gov. Barbour encourages tourists to ‘enjoy the beach’ as dead dolphins wash ashore

    • Larue says:

      From the article:

      Some 5 million gallons of crude has spewed into the Gulf and tar balls have been washing ashore in several states along the coast.

      My bold emp.

      I have NO idea how an MSM outlet can get SO much of that read right, and then publish something as fucking stupid as the above lifted quote.

      Thanks for posting that story, it helps bring into context some snippets of I’ve seen past 24 hours, including Jindal at least on the right side of this story (for the first time ever). It will be interesting if he continues to confront the oil industry, or covers up things as this proceeds along it’s path.

  15. Larue says:

    We just have some crazy belief that the walruses have decided to vacation on the Gulf of Mexico.

    “When The Penguins Return To San Juan Capistrano.”

    Great read, thanks Mz. Wheeler!

    Ya think there’s ANY possibility that there’s an ocean of corruption from top to bottom, from private to public, from CEO To Pres/Senate/House and down thru the local state and county and city ranks and any of this will get blown up and shown to light as this all develops further?

    Could this disaster be one to FURTHER whistleblowing and mend what ails us? Or will it be just another Katrina style whitewash . . .

  16. JamesJoyce says:

    THIS IS DE FACTO CORPORATE SODOMY! Let perpetuate bullshit, where .75 cents of every American dollar spent by Americans on gas is effectively wasted out our tailpipes. This is rape! Rape of the environment, rape of Americans, rape of a Nation for the benefit and myopic self interest and profit of corporations? Foreign corporations, raping America enabled by corporate slime, American aristocrats, in crime?

  17. moistenedbink says:

    Love my Senator Whitehouse. I am proud to be from the smallest state from which we have sent Washington some of the biggest statesmen.

  18. timbo says:

    My guess? There was no plan. Hey, whaddya know! I was right! Now if only someone in Congress would get a clue and actually work to protect us from the criminals we’ve promoted to such an extent that they can cause these sorts of catastrophes. But, hey, Dick Cheney and all his ilk are still walking around scott-free. Or, well, jetting around in their private jets; not quite the same thing as ‘scott-free’ the more and more I think about it.

  19. TEHelms says:

    The President needs to publicly fire Salazar as he is well on his way to being the next “great job, Brownie”! Salazar has had a year to clean out MMS and did what? He should be gone.

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