Here's what I sent the President today.
May 15, 2010
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As a supporter of your administration and a specialist in aspects of environmental impact assessment (EIA), I applaud your direction that a thorough review be undertaken of Minerals Management Service (MMS) oversight of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
However, the problem is not just with MMS, or with offshore oil rigs, and limiting your scrutiny to the circumstances that permitted the Deepwater Horizon disaster to occur will not be effective. We – and by “we” I mean the federal oversight agencies and the EIA community – have developed a culture over the last couple of decades (not solely during the Bush administration, though certainly exacerbated by it) in which it is perfectly OK for EIA to be performed by and for the proponents of projects like Deepwater Horizon, and in which agencies see their major roles as being to “streamline” the review of such projects. Congress, the agencies, and to a considerable extent the American people have come to see EIA as merely a pesky bureaucratic hoop to be jumped through. Such review as is done is largely obscure to the public, which is excluded from meaningful participation by obscure rules and jargon-laden analyses.
I explored some of these issues on a small scale in my 2009 book, Our Unprotected Heritage, a copy of which is enclosed. Chapter 8 contains recommendations to you for some initial actions to cause adjustments in the culture of EIA. These recommendations are a bit out of date in view of the Deepwater Horizon disaster; it is clearly time for a truly comprehensive initiative to change the culture of EIA throughout the federal establishment and the consulting community – to make our assessment work more thoughtful, honest, and participatory. I hope you will look beyond the Deepwater Horizon and lead such an initiative.
/s/ Thomas F. King