... the oil well now spewing large quantities of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico lacked a remote-control acoustic shutoff switch used by rigs in Norway and Brazil as the last line of defense against underwater spills. There’s a story behind that. As the Journal reports, after a spill in 2000, the MMS issued a safety notice saying that such a back-up device is “an essential component of a deepwater drilling system.” The industry pushed back in 2001, citing alleged doubts about the capacity of this type of system to provide a reliable emergency backup. By 2003, government regulators decided that the matter needed more study after commissioning a report that offered another, more honest reason: “acoustic systems are not recommended because they tend to be very costly.” I guess that depends on what they’re compared to. The system costs about $500,000 per rig. BP is spending at least $5 million per day battling the spill, the well destroyed by the explosion is valued at $560 million, and estimated damages to fishing, tourism, and the environment already run into the billions.We don't know the answer yet, but the odds that it rhymes with "rainy" would appear to be pretty good.
There’s something else we know, something that suggests an explanation for this sequence of events. After the Bush administration took office, the MMS became a cesspool of corruption and conflicts of interest. In September 2008, Earl Devaney, Interior’s Inspector General, delivered a report to Secretary Dirk Kempthorne that has to be read to be believed. One section, headlined “A Culture of Ethical Failure,” documented the belief among numerous MMS staff that they were “exempt from the rules that govern all other employees of the Federal Government.” They adopted a “private sector approach to essentially everything they did.” This included “opting themselves out of the Ethics in Government Act.” On at least 135 occasions, they accepted gifts and gratuities from oil and gas companies with whom they worked. One of the employees even had a lucrative consulting arrangement with a firm doing business with the government. And in a laconic sentence that speaks volumes, the IG reported: “When confronted by our investigators, none of the employees involved displayed remorse.”
So here’s my question: what is responsible for MMS’s change of heart between 2000 and 2003 on the crucial issue of requiring a remote control switch for offshore rigs?
The notion that half a million dollars per rig for such a system, could be rejected solely on cost (if that's what happened), is as mindboggling as Galston suggests. Moreover, given the taxpayers' ultimate liability in the event of a disaster, there is no plausible theory of democratic government under which such a consideration could've controlled.