President Donald Trump's administration has tapped Louisiana political veteran Scott Angelle to head the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which regulates offshore drilling.
The move drew quick praise from Louisiana's battered energy sector.
Angelle's appointment, announced Monday, means the Breaux Bridge native will step aside from his duties on the Louisiana Public Service Commission, where his term was slated to run through 2018.
The federal post does not require Senate confirmation, and Angelle will start work Tuesday.
“Scott Angelle brings a wealth of experience to BSEE, having spent many years working for the safe and efficient energy production of both Louisiana’s and our country’s offshore resources,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in a statement.
“As we set our path toward energy dominance, I am confident that Scott has the expertise, vision and the leadership necessary to effectively enhance our program, and to promote the safe and environmentally responsible exploration, development and production of our country’s offshore oil and gas resources.”
Angelle has been in public life since being elected to the St. Martin Parish Police Jury in 1988, but he became a household name in 2015, when he came within a thousand votes of displacing U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a fellow Republican, from the runoff in the governor's race eventually won by John Bel Edwards.
Last year, Angelle was the presumptive front-runner in a bid to become Acadiana's congressman, but he lost to Clay Higgins in the runoff to represent the 3rd Congressional District.
Now, Angelle will become the offshore bureau's fourth director since it was established six years ago in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
"I welcome the opportunity to serve President Trump and Secretary Zinke, and to work with BSEE staff to meet the critical goal of energy dominance for our country,” Angelle said. “It is an exciting and challenging time for BSEE. I look forward to leading our efforts to empower the offshore oil and gas industry while ensuring safe and environmentally responsible operations.”
Since getting his start in public office in the late 1980s, Angelle has served as a parish president; secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, which oversees oil and gas production; interim lieutenant governor during the response to the BP oil spill; former Gov. Bobby Jindal's legislative liaison; and chairman of the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, telecommunications and intrastate trucking.
While Louisiana's most oil-dependent areas continue to suffer from the effects of three years of depressed oil prices, many industry leaders and local officials are hopeful that Trump's pledge to reduce the costs of regulatory burdens will soon materialize.
Eleven men died when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig caught fire and exploded April 20, 2010, about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. Millions of barrels of oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico and onto Gulf Coast wetlands and beaches.
After the accident, dozens of new restrictions were put in place by President Barack Obama's administration that industry leaders say have added costs that have hampered drilling activity.
Angelle's appointment could lend some momentum to the deregulation movement.
"From a regulatory standpoint, we have really been kind of handcuffed over the last administration with onerous regulations, and Scott Angelle will be a real needed advocate for balancing the offshore oil and gas industry in a safe and environmentally friendly way," said Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group. "He understands the regulations, which I think is extremely important in these times."
But others have complained the agency has not been tough enough on the industry.
In a report released in March 2016, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found the bureau "continues to rely on pre-Deepwater Horizon incident policies and procedures," which it described as "a longstanding deficiency."
Investigations in the aftermath of the disaster found that the Interior Department's "policies and procedures did not include requirements for planning investigations, gathering and documenting evidence."
"Specifically, BSEE has not completed a policy outlining investigative responsibilities or updated procedures for investigating incidents — among the goals of BSEE's restructuring, according to restructuring planning documents, and consistent with federal standards for internal control," the report said.
The GAO, which conducts investigations and audits for Congress, issued another report in March that found the bureau "has started several key strategic initiatives to improve its offshore safety and environmental oversight, but its limited efforts to obtain and incorporate input from within the bureau have hindered its progress."
Donald Boesch, who was on the presidential oil spill commission and had a hand in shaping the post-BP spill safety reforms, said he believes Angelle's past industry ties may be a red flag for some environmental groups.
"I don't have anything against Louisiana natives, but I think the fact that he was in government and an elected official, he's seen as having a political connection from that standpoint," said Boesch, president of the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science. "He kind of breaks the mold (for BSEE directors) even though the mold isn't that old."
By comparison, Brian Salerno, who was the bureau's director from 2013 until this year, spent more than three decades serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, including a stint as the agency's deputy commandant for operations.
"He's going to be perceived by some as a fairly strong proponent of the industry, rather than fundamentally coming at it from a long career of safety and enforcement," Boesch said of Angelle. "I don't want to prejudge that, but that's going to be the discussion and the debate about it."
But after three years of slumping oil prices that have caused thousands of job losses throughout Louisiana, many leaders in Louisiana's drilling industry welcomed the chance to have a native son at the bureau's helm who's familiar with issues facing the energy sector.
"This is great news for the offshore oil and gas industry, at a time when we needed some good news," John said.
From his perspective, John said, Angelle brings "a wealth of experience, knowledge of the offshore industry, and can balance safety and regulations in the Gulf of Mexico so we can continue to be the energy powerhouse that we are."