We are now in the 21st day of what is a relentless and non-stop response to the BP spill in the Gulf coast.
We are battling one of the largest environmental catastrophes in decades.
Interior's public servants from its many agencies are putting in long hours, with little sleep, as they work alongside other federal, state, and local partners to address this crisis.
All together, more than 13,000 personnel are working together to address the issue.
We have four missions on which we have been focused since Day One.
First, we are putting all hands on deck to stop the spill.
Second, we are protecting with everything that we have the great natural resources of the Gulf Coast, including Interior's 24 national wildlife refuges and seven national park units that could be affected by the spill.
Third, we are working to get to the bottom of what happened and hold those responsible accountable.
Fourth, we are evaluating what could be done differently to prevent this type of incident from ever happening again.
The many questions that arise from the Deepwater Horizon and this incident will take time to answer.
The Joint Investigation that MMS and the U.S. Coast Guard are leading will help us get to the bottom of what happened on April 20.
The 30-day review that the President asked us to undertake will help us understand what safety measures could be immediately implemented.
The new OCS Safety Oversight Board I have established in Interior will allow us to evaluate the broader questions this incident raises about management, oversight, and safety on the OCS.
And today, because it is important that there is confidence in the reviews, we are putting a fresh set of eyes on the effort.
That fresh set of eyes will come from the National Academy of Engineering.
The National Academy of Engineering has agreed to my request to help us and to conduct an investigation that will be independent
and science-based as to the accident's root causes. They have great expertise and are highly respected around the world.
All of these investigations, including the investigation by the National Academy of Engineering, will provide us important information that will help ensure that what has happened at the deepwater horizon site will never happen again.
But as we conduct these reviews, we must not hesitate to take action that can bring about change and reform now.
Since last January 2009, we have been implementing reforms aimed at changing how the Department of the Interior does business.
I became the Secretary of the Interior in part because these reform efforts were foremost in my mind and foremost in the President's mind and we have done a lot to change this department in the last year.
We have issued new ethics standards for MMS employees.
Wehave terminated the controversial royalty-in-kind program, against many who opposed its termination.
We have ushered in a new sense of mission to the MMS to stand up renewable energy in the offshore and broken through all of the regulatory logjams that were keeping renewable energy from being a part of the nation's energy portfolio.
We have aggressively implemented recommendations on improvements at MMS which have been made by our own Inspector General here in the department as well as a committee chaired by Senators Bob Kerrey and Senator Jake Garn.
We have cancelled the 5 proposed lease sales, which the prior administration had proposed in the Arctic areas because of concerns relative to spill response and other safety measures.
We have also taken steps to make sure that there are areas protected which are too special to develop and that has included Bristol Bay in Alaska.
And we have established a clear, orderly, and science-based process for determining which areas on the Outer Continental Shelf may or may not be appropriate for oil and gas development.
Our program for reform is a drumbeat that must and will continue.
Today, I'm announcing that we are making additional reforms to give the public servants of this department more tools, more resources, more independence, and greater authority to enforce laws and regulations that apply to oil and gas companies operating on the Outer Continental Shelf.
First, I intend to establish a seperate and independent safety and environmental enforcement entity that will require a restructuring of MMS. I believe the job of ensuring energy companies follow the law and protecting the safety of their workers and the environment should be independent from MMS's leasing, revenue collection, and permitting functions.
We will approach this restructuring responsibly and thoughtfully, and we will ensure the American people that they have a strong and independent organization holding energy companies accountable and in compliance with the law of the land.
Second, I am announcing today that we will be submitting to Congress a proposal to provide an additional $29 million to strengthen and increase inspection of offshore oil and gas operations; conduct independent investigations, complete engineering and environmental studies, and develop recommendations that will follow-up on the report to be delivered to the President on May the 28 or before.
Third, we are also submitting a proposal to Congress to increase the authority of MMS to review exploration plans that companies submit.
Currently, MMS is required by law as enacted by Congress to review exploration plans and to make those decisions within 30 days from the time that the exploration plan is submitted.
We want to increase the review period to 90 days, and more if the agency determines that the time is needed for an adequate review.
These important changes in the law will help us have the additional time to insure that additional environmental analysis is conducted on these exploration plans.
Additional time to review exploration plans would supplement additional environmental reviews that are already conducted at several stages of the leasing process and development of oil and gas.
Again, these reforms will not be the last that we will undertake. We will continue to work tirelessly to change how the Department of the Interior does business to make sure we are holding energy companies accountable,
that the American people are getting a fair return from their resource, and that the safety of workers and the environment are protected.