UPDATED: Vitter On Warpath: Lays Into Bromwich, Salazar On Permit Mendacity

UPDATE: Feldman’s order to Interior to issue or deny the seven permits in the Ensco case has been stayed by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) took on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement Director Michael Bromwich in a letter today, with a copy intended for federal district judge Martin Feldman, over statements made by the pair about the number of offshore drilling permits BOEMRE says are in its regulatory pipeline.

The letter was brought on by a court filing last week in which Interior stated there are a lot more permits awaiting approval than the “handful” Salazar or Bromwich have claimed in public statements.

“It is a mathematical impossibility for your representations to be accurate, as well as the filings of the Department of Justice to be accurate,” Vitter said in the letter. “It is not possible for there to be ‘too few permits’ awaiting review, and simultaneously ‘too many’ permits being reviewed to make issuing a particular handful problematic.”

In testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Salazar said only 47 shallow-water permit applications had been received by Interior over the last nine months and just seven deepwater permits are pending. And in a meeting with Vitter last month, Bromwich said the deepwater permit number was just six.

Those statements are more than a little inconsistent with Interior’s stance in the Ensco Offshore case, in which Feldman had given BOEMRE 30 days to issue or deny seven deepwater permit applications pending before it for between four and nine months. BOEMRE attempted to get a stay from Feldman’s orders – one to dispose of five pending permits and the other to dispose of two more – by claiming that reprioritizing those permits per his orders would screw up its process. And in the filing seeking the stay, the Department of Justice (speaking on Interior’s behalf) claimed there are actually 270 shallow water permit applications pending and 52 deepwater permit applications pending.

“I’m afraid that this clear discrepancy between the DOJ filing and the department’s public statements shows that Interior will pursue its political agenda at any cost,Vitter said.

The letter…

March 16, 2011

VIA ELECTRONIC MAIL AND FACSIMILE

IMMEDIATE ATTENTION REQUESTED

Secretary Ken Salazar

Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240

Director Michael Bromwich

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement

1849 C St., NW

Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary Salazar and Director Bromwich:

I write to express my deep frustration with the public and private misrepresentation of how many drilling permits are pending before the agency.  It is completely inexcusable for the information that both of you have provided to be so completely inconsistent with that of Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) court filing last week.

Over the last several weeks and months, you have indicated publicly, before Congress, and privately to members, including myself, that there are only a handful of permits awaiting agency action.  Specifically: Secretary Salazar’s testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee two weeks ago stating that the administration has received only 47 shallow water permit applications over the past nine months, and that only 7 deepwater permit applications are pending; Mr. Bromwich personally stating to me that only 6 deepwater permits applications are pending; and Mr. Bromwich’s public statement that deepwater permit approvals will be limited because “only a handful of completed applications have been received.”

Your statements are completely inconsistent with the DOJ’s motion filing last week for a stay of Judge Martin Feldman’s rulings.  On page 11 of that filing, the DOJ notes that there is potential harm in the “re-prioritization that results from the court’s orders” to issue seven permits in Feldman’s February and March orders.  DOJ explains that this is because there are 270 shallow water permit applications pending, and 52 deepwater permit applications pending.

It is a mathematical impossibility for your representations to be accurate, as well as the filings of the Department of Justice to be accurate.  It is not possible for there to be ‘too few permits’ awaiting review, and simultaneously ‘too many’ permits being reviewed to make issuing a particular handful problematic.

I would like to remind you of your responsibility as agency officials under the Information Quality Act (IQA).  Section 515 of the IQA directs federal agencies to maximize “the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity” of information they prepare and disseminate and it requires agencies to adopt and follow implementing guidelines.  The OMB guidelines note the IQA applies to the “creation, collection, maintenance, and dissemination of information.”  The basic standard of care is that information must be “accurate, clear, complete, and unbiased.”  Stricter and even more rigorous quality standards apply when the information is “influential,” meaning it will “have a clear and substantial impact on important public policies….”

It is important for the information you provide to elected officials and the public to meet basic legal and ethical guidelines required of federal agency officials.  Disseminating false or misleading information impedes the credibility of BOEMRE and has a profound and direct impact on the people of Louisiana.

Sincerely,

David Vitter

U.S. Senate

Cc:       Judge Martin Feldman



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