Trump admin officially rolls back safety rules put in place after Deepwater Horizon

E.A. Crunden

E.A. Crunden Reporter, ThinkProgress

The Department of the Interior (DOI) is rolling back offshore drilling safety protections put in place after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The announcement comes as the Trump administration’s coastal fossil fuel ambitions are under intense scrutiny following legal setbacks and bipartisan opposition.

Months after it first announced the weakening of safety rules, DOI on Thursday unveiled its final plan in Port Fourchon, Louisiana, an area deeply connected to offshore drilling. The seaport is the country’s leading service point for the majority of Gulf drilling activities.

In a statement, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the move would alleviate “unnecessary regulatory burdens while maintaining safety and environmental protection offshore.”

The Obama-era regulations were finalized in 2016 after six years of development. The stricter rules came in response to the BP disaster, which killed 11 people and spilled at least 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, devastating coastal communities and destroying wildlife. The rules imposed stricter requirements on equipment, including blowout preventers, among other measures.

The rollback weakens those regulations in addition to allowing third-party companies to inspect equipment, rather than government officials, and would also extend the period between inspections. Moreover, companies are no longer required to alert the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) after “false alarms” associated with production.

Environmental groups and safety advocates have argued that the rules have been critical to protecting workers and the environment. Offshore drilling is one of the most dangerous occupations and groups like the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) have strongly opposed efforts to weaken the regulations.

But fossil fuel interests have long complained about the stricter safety precautions and lamented them as costly. The industry has also argued that the rules are hindering President Donald Trump’s energy ambitions offshore. In its initial Federal Register notice, DOI argued that rolling back the regulations “supports the Administration’s objective of facilitating energy dominance” by “reducing unnecessary burdens on stakeholders” in order to bolster fossil fuel production.

And under the Trump administration, enforcement of the regulations has been lax. In an analysis released last month, the nonprofit conservation group Oceana found that nearly 1,600 injuries were reported by offshore operators between 2011 and 2017. And at least 6,500 oil spills occurred in U.S. waters in the last 12 years.

Moreover, DOI handed out nearly 1,700 waivers allowing offshore oil drillers to skirt the current safety regulations in the 20 months after they were introduced.

Groups like the American Petroleum Institute (API) argue that the industry already has safety measures in place and that the government’s additional regulations are unnecessary. API has also pushed for massively expanding offshore drilling in U.S. waters. According to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, API spent nearly $7 million on lobbying expenditures in 2018 for issues including offshore drilling. The group has spent almost $1.5 million in 2019 on oil and gas lobbying.

Offshore drilling opponents blasted the rollback on Thursday. Earthjustice, a legal group, said it would “use every tool we have” to challenge the weakening of the regulations. And in a statement to ThinkProgress, Oceana Campaign Director Diane Hoskins called the announcement “a major step backward” with steep safety implications.

“Our government shouldn’t be catering to the demands of the oil industry at the expense of our public and environmental safety,” she said. “We should be implementing new safety reforms, not rolling back the too few safety measures currently in place. More drilling and less safety is a recipe for disaster.”

The announcement came a week after Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist, backed away from plans to open virtually all U.S. waters to drilling following legal setbacks. Coastal communities across the political spectrum have united against those ambitions and Republicans have expressed concerns that such a drilling expansion could harm the party in 2020.

But DOI has yet to officially retract the plans and the department has not elaborated on its plans. DOI is also still processing seismic permits in the Atlantic Ocean, despite push-back from shoreline lawmakers and businesses.

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Reposted from ThinkProgress

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work