Federal Destruction of Gulf Oil Rigs: Keeping the Pressure On

reef built on rig

reef built on rig

Jesse Cancelmo (cancelmophoto.com)

In a show of bipartisan concern for the health of the Gulf of Mexico, 20 members of the U.S. House of Representatives this week signed a letter from the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus calling on the Department of Interior (DOI) to declare a moratorium on its "idle iron" policy, currently in the process of removing hundreds of coral-covered, decommissioned oil rigs from the Gulf.

I salute all these men, from 10 different states, for taking this action. Read that letter here and note which 20 congressmen signed on. They certainly deserve our thanks for joining Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-Miss.) in signing the letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, citing their concern that the DOI's idle iron directive "is having an adverse impact on critical marine habitat in the Gulf of Mexico."

“We request that your Department enact a temporary moratorium on the removal of structures related to that Directive,” the letter states, “until a stakeholder process can be developed to determine both the best methods to properly dismantle rigs that have cause to be removed, and to protect those structures that are shown to harbor thriving marine ecosystems.”

I’m particularly heartened by the fact that this is not an isolated plea, but in fact is yet another in a series of actions that makes increasingly clear the widespread concern at federal, state and local levels over the DOI’s idle-iron policy.

In the past year or so, U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has filed the Rigs to Reefs Habitat Protection Act; Salazar has received letters of concern from Texas Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas); a coalition of marine-conservation, fishing- and boating-industry groups has called on Salazar to halt the idle-iron rig removals; and a committee on the Sportfishing and Boating Partnership Council has called on Salazar to enact a two-year moratorium on rig removals. Additionally the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is working to list these rigs as Essential Fish Habitat. And at least one environmental group is actively calling for a moratorium.

We also were able to obtain a response to our concerns over the idle-iron mandate from Ken Salazar's boss, President Obama, which you can read here. That answer may not satisfy those of us who think an immediate moratorium should be declared (more rigs are being destroyed and removed all the time). We have tried repeatedly to get comments from Mitt Romney without success, so we can't be sure what he would do if he were in charge of the DOI.

In any event, the pressure is clearly building. I wonder how much longer Salazar can continue to oversee the removal of these living reefs without ever really justifying his policy or answering to critics. Meantime, those of us who care about the Gulf and its fisheries need to keep up that pressure.

As Palazzo says: “We cannot sit idly by while marine habitat in the Gulf is destroyed by a policy that clearly needs more consideration.”

Learn more about the idle iron fiasco by visiting the Rigs to Reefs page of the CCA, which has been working hard to keep this issue front and center.