New push for industry reforms after spill

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The Independent US

Even as the crippled BP oil well continues to spew crude into the waters of the Gulf, the US government was yesterday moving to introduce industry reforms, beginning with a proposal that the federal agency that both collects the royalties for drilling licences and runs on-site safety and regulatory inspections be split in two.

The break-up of the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which each year collects about $13bn (£8.7bn) from energy companies for the US Treasury, was set to be tabled by the Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar. Only the Internal Revenue Service takes in more money for government coffers each year.

Meanwhile, the two US senators leading efforts to pass climate-change legislation, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, are expected this morning to introduce a law that for the first time would allow any state to veto the start of offshore drilling in a neighbouring state if it feels its environmental heritage was being put at risk by any spill.

With hearings into the accident now beginning on Capitol Hill, a spotlight will be trained on what some have said is an unhealthily cosy relationship between the MMS, part of the Department of the Interior, and giant oil companies. Records have shown, for instance, that BP was allowed to begin work on the crippled well last year without submitting the normal plans on how it would respond to a blow-out.

There are "inherent internal conflicts of interest" in the agency as it now exists, suggested Democratic Senator Robert Menendez last night, as Elmer Danenberger, a former senior official at the MMS, defended his ex-colleagues at a Senate hearing.

Mr Danenberger conceded that dividing MMS might be sensible. "That tends to be the trend internationally: to separate the resource management agency from the safety and pollution- prevention agency."