Scott Angelle failed to get elected governor in 2015 and as a congressman the next year, but he was assured of a major role in Louisiana's future when Donald Trump became president.
The job to which Trump appointed Angelle in May of this year had not hitherto generated much controversy. But Angelle is emerging as a key player in Trump's campaign to obliterate any trace of the reforms and regulations imposed by the Barack Obama administration.
The latest move in that campaign is bound to arouse strong passions in Louisiana; Angelle's agency, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, proposes to save oil companies some $900 million over the next 10 years by ditching safety measures introduced after 11 men died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion of 2010.
Angelle, as interim Lieutenant Governor, led the chorus opposing Obama's offshore drilling moratorium imposed after that disaster, which led to the establishment of the bureau in 2011.
If the bureau's stated dual mission were at the top of Trump's agenda, Angelle would hardly have been the obvious choice as director. But Trump evidently saw him as just the man to shake off government shackles, and spread the joys of drilling from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico.
Born in Breaux Bridge, Angelle had hardly ever set foot outside Louisiana's oil patch and spent several years under two governors as head of Louisiana's Department of Natural Resources. Short of hiring the head of Texaco's PR department, Trump couldn't have found a candidate more in tune with Big Oil.
No sooner had Trump arrived at the White House than he entrusted the Environmental Protection Agency to that tireless champion of industrial polluters, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. If Angelle were suspected of sympathy for the tree-huggers or global-warming enthusiasts, he wouldn't have gotten the nod from this president.
The bureau's latest proposal, designed to advance Trump's policy of maintaining American “energy dominance,” would seemingly emasculate safeguards mandated after Deepwater Horizon. The bureau even suggests removing the word “safe” from one Obama-era rule.
You may figure that deletion somewhat undermines the bureau's very raison d'etre, but it has a ready explanation. “Based on BSEE experience during the implementation of the original (rule),” it writes, “BSEE has concluded that the term 'safe' creates ambiguity in that it could be read to suggest that additional unspecified standards, beyond those expressly stated, may be imposed in the approval of proposed drilling margins.”
Thanks for clearing that up, BSEE. Who knew “safe” is such a hard word to understand?
The bureau also proposes to quit requiring that rigs transmit production data onshore to be monitored in real time by regulators. Recommended for the scrapheap too is a rule that oilfield equipment inspectors must be certified by BSEE. These are the inspectors we trust, for instance, to detect the kind of defects that caused the Deepwater Horizon blow-out preventer to fail.
What the effect of the proposed rule changes will be is impossible to predict, and the bureau's position is that technological advances since the disaster had made some of the safeguards redundant. Maybe so, but clearly measures that are expected to save the industry such vast sums of money cannot make working on an oil rig any safer.
Since a central aim of the Trump administration is to relax the government restraints that purportedly hold back economic progress, some trade-off between prosperity and the protection of working stiffs is inevitable.
What is good for the oil industry has always been good for Louisiana, so perhaps it was just as well for us that Angelle twice came up short at the polls and was thus available for the bureau job.
But, just when the Wall Street Journal broke the story about the bureau's plan to gut the safety rules, the Associated Press released a study showing that 327 Superfund sites are about to be flooded out as a result of the global warming that is evidently of no concern to Trump and Angelle.
Email James Gill at Gill1407@bellsouth.net.