Interior Department hit with lawsuit over BP oil spill

As lawsuits over the BP oil spill mount, a group of conservationists and fishermen have a new target: the U.S. Department of Interior's Minerals Management Service.

Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, and New Orleans' Waltzer & Wiygul filed suit in federal court on Tuesday against the federal agency. The suit -- Gulf Restoration Network and Sierra Club v. Salazar -- charges that the agency violated federal law by exempting oil companies that drill in the Gulf of Mexico from disclosing blowout and worst-case spill scenarios as well as plans for dealing with them before approving the companies' offshore drilling plans.

For the BP Deepwater Horizon exploration plan, the Minerals Management Service, according to the suit, had issued notices to the oil companies that they did not have to comply with the blowout and worst-case oil spill rules. The agency also failed to analyze the potential environmental impact of a blowout and spill as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

"This case is about lax regulation by the Minerals Management Service," said Earthjustice attorney David Guest in a statement. "It is actually easier to get a permit for an offshore oil well than for a hot dog stand."

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, seeks to invalidate the agency's practice of sending notices to oil companies informing them they don't have to comply with the rules and to order review of existing offshore drilling plans that do not comply with existing rules.

"The basic problem here is that the Minerals Management Service tried to change the law without telling anybody," said Robert Wiygul. "That's bad policy, and the BP mess proves it's a disaster for the environment."

The federal agency, at press time, had no comment on the lawsuit.

(Published by – May 19, 2010)

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