Fox in the Hen House: BP Exec at MMS


In the weeks since BP’s Deepwater Horizon well started spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, there’s been increasing attention to the “cozy” relationship between the Minerals Management Service (MMS) and the oil industry it’s supposed to regulate. How cozy? Just last summer the Obama administration tapped a BP executive to serve as a deputy administrator for land and minerals management.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last June appointed Sylvia V. Baca to the post, which did not require Senate confirmation. The appointment follows eight years at BP. From her MMS bio:

Baca had been general manager for Social Investment Programs and Strategic Partnerships at BP America Inc. in Houston, and had held several senior management positions with the company since 2001, focusing on environmental initiatives, overseeing cooperative projects with private and public organizations, developing health, safety, and emergency response programs and working on climate change, biodiversity and sustainability objectives.

As Director of Global Health, Safety, Environment & Emergency Response for BP Shipping Ltd. in London, Baca led a worldwide team to develop innovative and proactive energy and the environment initiatives. Among her accomplishments, she oversaw health, safety and environmental outcomes for an $8 billion ship building program, resulting in the youngest, greenest and most technically advanced fleet in the world. The project has received numerous awards for its safety and environmental advancements.

Baca is also an excellent example of the revolving door between government and industry that MMS has been accused of facilitating. From 1995 to 2001, she was an assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Department of Interior before leaving to work for the oil giant.

Last week, Salazar unveiled plans to split MMS into three agencies—one that will focus on energy development, another on enforcement and the third on revenue collection. But that doesn’t necessarily stop the spinning door between the beleaguered agency and the oil industry.

UPDATE: Salazar spokesperson Kendra Barkoff issued a statement noting that Baca, under federal government ethics standards, “has been and is recused from participating personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which BP is or represents a party, for a period of two years following her appointment.” She also noted that Baca is not working on offshore drilling at the agency (her post deals with on-shore drilling).

Her appointment to the agency, however, doesn’t do much to help its industry-friendly reputation.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.