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Interior Dept. agencies are off-track

Perhaps a name change is in order for some agencies under the U.S. Interior Department umbrella. These days at least two of them would more accurately be referred to as the Minerals Mismanagement Service and the Bureau of Land Mismanagement.

The Minerals Management Service is charged with overseeing offshore oil and gas leases; it’s the agency that failed to require a realistic emergency response plan from BP before giving its Deepwater Horizon rig permission to drill. It has also been at the center of assorted scandals involving employees who accepted gifts or solicited jobs from the oil companies they were supposed to regulate. The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees natural resources, is the agency that, during the George W. Bush administration, auctioned off oil and gas leases within view of national parks in Utah and approved risky uranium mining near the Colorado River, from which Southern California gets some of its water.

More tragically, the BLM is also the agency that sanctioned the California 200 off-road race Saturday on federal land in the Mojave Desert, at which eight spectators were killed after a racer lost control and crashed into the crowd. The track apparently lacked fencing to keep onlookers out of danger, with crowds reportedly so close to the action in places that some people could almost reach out and touch the trucks as they sped by.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has had his hands full trying to repair the damage done under President Bush, when federal agencies charged with protecting public lands were more focused on exploiting them. A case in point is the BLM’s 2006 plan for managing off-road vehicle routes in the Mojave, which was overturned by a federal judge last year because the agency didn’t adequately study its environmental impact. While it works on revising that plan, the BLM also needs to revisit its policies on off-road racing. If it doesn’t have the staffing or authority to prevent such appalling loss of life, it should ban these races entirely. In other words, put the “management” part of the BLM’s title back into effect.


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