Cantwell: MMS Ignored Environmental Risks in Offshore Drilling Plan

WASHINGTON, DC – At a hearing today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said that the U.S. Mineral Management Services (MMS) ignored environmental consequences while formulating its offshore drilling plan.  In September of 2009, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sent MMS a letter about the offshore drilling proposal, saying MMS understated environmental impacts of the drilling proposals. 
“It is pretty clear from what NOAA says in this letter that MMS understands the environmental impacts and the risks of oil spills and that MMS’s conclusionsare not based on science,” said Senator Cantwell at today’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing. “Those are pretty strong statements.” 
Cantwell, Chair of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee, asked NOAA administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco if NOAA received a formal response to its letter.  Lubchenco said NOAA received no formal response, but had many informal exchanges with MMS.  Cantwell said the public should have access to any documents from those exchanges.
Cantwell also reflected on the lessons learned from the Exxon Valdez spill and what we should do differently in the future. 
“It taught us that an oil spill can be devastating to many sectors of the economy, from tourism to commercial fisheries,” said Senator Cantwell. “It taught us that the damage can last for decades, as oil can still be found on the beaches of Prince William Sound even today. And it taught us that some parts of the environment may not recover at all, as the herring fishery wiped out by Exxon Valdez has still not recovered. I have here a jar of oiled rocks that was collected last February from Prince William Sound’s beaches by a fisherman there. Clearly, the legacy of the Exxon Valdez is still with us.”
Earlier in the day at an Energy and Natural Resource Committee hearing, Cantwell questioned Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and he said he would provide Cantwell with the Department’s response to NOAA’s concerns.  See their exchange here.