Salazar: U.S. doing all it can on oil spill

By Annalyn Censky, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reiterated Wednesday that the U.S. government is doing all it can to put an end to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and to enforce ethics requirements in the federal agency responsible for inspecting oil wells.

He also reiterated that the oil spill is causing President Obama to consider adjustments to his plan to open exploration wells for drilling in the Arctic.

The Interior Department faced criticism in a hearing before Congress Wednesday, two days after an inspector general report showed Minerals Management Service (MMS) inspectors took gifts from big oil companies, watched pornography and used crystal meth at work.

But in the hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee, Salazar said he believes most of the bureau's 1,700 employees are "good public servants" and abide by ethics requirements put in place by the Obama administration. He said the department has "zero tolerance" for the ethical lapses, which he also called "reprehensible" and even "criminal."

"I would say, there are bad apples and those bad apples will be rooted out with every power that we have," he said.

Salazar's testimony occurred hours before BP (BP), the company responsible for the spill, attempted what it called a "top kill" procedure aimed at plugging the 37-day-old leak.

The hearing was the first of seven by the House Natural Resources Committee investigating the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and examining the future of America's offshore oil and gas policy. The committee oversees the country's offshore drilling policy and MMS, which collects about $13.7 billion per year in revenue from federal offshore and onshore drilling leases.

The discussion at the hearing bounced around as lawmakers questioned why the Interior Department wasn't better prepared for the Gulf Coast oil spill, and Salazar repeatedly criticized the previous administration of President George W. Bush for not keeping oil companies at a proper "arms length" from federal regulators.

"We've done a lot to clean the house at MMS," he said. "Unlike the prior administration, this is not the candy store of the oil and gas kingdom."

Salazar reiterated a proposal to break up MMS into three divisions, separating the agency's revenue collectors from the leasing and enforcement functions of the organization.

Asked several times whether the Gulf Coast oil spill will be a "game changer" for President Obama's plan to open new areas to offshore drilling, particularly off the coast of Alaska, Salazar said more questions need to be answered first, and lawmakers should "stay tuned" for the Interior Department's safety review he will deliver to the president on Thursday.

"There will be a series of decisions that will be made with respect to whatever adjustments need to be made," Salazar said. "And so stay tuned on your question relative to this specifics on the exploration wells approved in the Arctic."

In March, Obama announced plans to open up a few new areas for drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, off the East Coast and in Alaska. But the Interior Department suspended new applications for drilling permits after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig led to an environmental disaster. To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 17,098.45 18.88 0.11%
Nasdaq 4,580.27 22.58 0.50%
S&P 500 2,003.37 6.63 0.33%
Treasuries 2.34 0.01 0.39%
Data as of 2:48am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 16.09 0.08 0.50%
Apple Inc 102.50 0.25 0.24%
Intel Corp 34.92 0.27 0.78%
Facebook Inc 74.82 0.96 1.31%
General Electric Co 25.98 -0.03 -0.12%
Data as of Aug 29

Sections

The deal would value Vice at $2.5 billion. The online media company would also create content for the cable network, delivering a wider audience. More

Gas prices are falling to nearly $3 a gallon in some parts of South Carolina, and that will soon be common in much of the country. More

Netflix told the FCC that its speed on the Comcast network became so slow that customers began dropping their service. More

The Coolest Cooler is the most successful Kickstarter campaign in the site's history, raising $13.3 million from over 62,000 backers. More

Five CNNMoney readers share stories about saving that you can learn from: What they would do differently if they had another chance. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.