Too Cozy for Comfort

Sylvia Baca, who was appointed to a top position at the Minerals Management Service used to work for BP.© www.doi.gov

In June 2009, Elizabeth Birnbaum, then-director of the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service, appointed Sylvia Baca to the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. Since the appointment did not require Senate confirmation, it nearly escaped notice. It was a new year, with a new position for Baca, but she is anything but a stranger to the DoI. Baca worked under the Clinton administration from 1995-2001 in executive positions in the same department, and prior to that held the same position she holds now.

She’s also a direct example of the "revolving door" between government and industry that led to the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf. While Birnbaum resigned under administration pressure following the spill and its aftermath, Baca remains. Prior to being appointed as the deputy assistant secretary, Baca worked for BP—as the general manager for Social Investment Programs and Strategic Partnerships. Baca has held a number of executive positions for more than eight years at BP, leading many to question whether her role in the MMS is a conflict of interest.

According to the New York Times, "under Interior Department conflict of interests rules, [Baca] is prohibited from playing any role in decisions involving BP," and that includes the oil spill crisis going on in the Gulf. Though Baca’s job does give her some responsibilities in overseeing gas and oil operations on public lands, David Hayes, deputy interior secretary, said that Baca excused herself from working on the oil spill due to her past connection with BP. However, even with her recusal, the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups question whether or not Baca should still hold such an appointment at all.

SOURCES: Mother Jones; New York Times.

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