Through Another's Eyes: Getting the Benefit of Outside Perspectives in Environmental Review
30 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2011
The Deepwater Horizon blowout has important lessons to teach about environmental review. It is easy to scapegoat the Minerals Management Service for its poor implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act’s environmental study requirements, a product in part of its capture by the oil industry. But captive agencies are a common phenomenon. Oversight by environmental mission agencies is supposed to provide a check on the myopia typical of captive or primary-mission agencies. NEPA, the Endangered Species Act, and the Coastal Zone Management Act all provide for such oversight in the offshore drilling context. Yet none of the external reviews conducted in the course of permitting the Macondo Well uncovered MMS’s wildly incorrect estimates of the probability, magnitude, and consequences of a blow-out. This article details the external reviews that were conducted, explains why those reviews were ineffective, and offers suggestions for improvement. Reinvigorating worst-case analysis under NEPA and incorporating worst-case analysis into ESA consultation for activities that pose an uncertain risk of catastrophic harm could help focus the attention of reviewing agencies on actions that merit an especially close look, and justify the mobilization of the resources needed to evaluate action agency risk assessments.
Keywords: NEPA, OCSLA, ESA, CZMA, Worst-Case Analysis, Deepwater Horizon, Oil Spill, Environmental Review, Agency Capture
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