The federal agency responsible for regulating offshore oil drilling repeatedly ignored warnings from government scientists about environmental risks in its push to approve energy exploration activities quickly, according to numerous documents and interviews.
Minerals Management Service officials, who receive cash bonuses for meeting federal deadlines on leasing offshore oil and gas exploration, frequently altered their own documents and bypassed legal requirements aimed at ensuring drilling does not imperil the marine environment, the documents show.
This has dramatically weakened the scientific checks on offshore drilling that were established under landmark laws such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, according to those who have worked with MMS, which is part of the Interior Department.
“It’s a war between the biologists and the engineers,” said Thomas A. Campbell, who served as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s general counsel under George H. W. Bush. “They just have a very different worldview, and sometimes the engineers simply don’t listen to the biologists.”
MMS officials in both Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico have instructed agency scientists to avoid triggering environmental reviews that would delay drilling.
When scientists elsewhere in the federal government, such as NOAA and the Marine Mammal Commission, have tried to raise red flags under both the Bush and Obama administration, their calls have gone largely unheeded.
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