Allowing the petroleum industry to regulate itself is a formula for disaster

In a giveaway to Big Oil, the Trump administration’s proposal to ease safety regulations on the industry that were adopted after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster is a mistake with potentially deadly consequences. At the same time, the administration gave another gift to oil companies by eliminating a tax they previously paid to clean up their own catastrophic oil spills.

Score two for Big Oil. The administration’s enthusiasm for rolling back environmental regulations has translated into a policy victory for the American Petroleum Institute, the leading lobbyist for U.S. oil and gas companies. The API writes the policy and the Trump administration applies it.

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The API opposed the two offshore drilling safety regulations that were put in place after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster that killed 11 people and caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The rules tightened controls on blowout preventers, devices that are intended to prevent explosions in undersea oil and gas wells. They also required that outside parties certify the safety devices worked under extreme conditions.

Regular inspections might seem onerous to businesses big and small, but they are essential to keeping the public safe. St. Louisans saw last year what happens when businesses don’t comply with rigorous inspection schedules. Four people died after a faulty high-pressure hot water tank in a building exploded and crashed into a nearby business. City regulators failed to close down the equipment and the company failed to replace it or adequately repair it.

The director of the Interior Department’s safety bureau says reducing the regulatory burden on industry will encourage increased domestic oil and gas production while maintaining high safety and environmental standards. The nation’s worst environmental disasters came from lax regulation.

What’s behind the push for deregulation is the industry’s opposition to costly safety rules. Paring them back might spur domestic offshore drilling, but there are so many other environmental concerns with drilling in federal waters that Republican and Democratic governors in states along the East and West coasts oppose it.

They were outraged when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke exempted Florida with the flimsy reason that he liked Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

The administration also eliminated a 9 cents-a-barrel tax on companies selling oil in the United States, which generated an annual average of $500 million for the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, established in 1986 to make sure taxpayers weren’t left holding the bag in the aftermath of a catastrophe such as the Exxon Valdez spill. It’s easy to see Big Oil has a friend in the White House.

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Only a reckless leader would allow any industry to set its own regulatory policy. President Donald Trump has shown little interest in the nation’s history of environmental disaster. As a result, he seems likely to repeat it.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch