"Cozy" is not the word we want to associate with the relationship between regulator and regulated. Yet while we might imagine regulatory agencies pursue their goals impartially, recent history is crowded with examples to the contrary.
After the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, an internal report conducted by the Department of the Interior found that representatives of the Minerals Management Service routinely accepted gifts from representatives of the oil industry, and socialized regularly.
The "c" word came up then, as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the report "further evidence of the cozy relationship between some elements of MMS and the oil and gas industry."
Local fracking foes reacted with anger to the recent news that state regulators granted gas industry insiders exclusive access to the proposed regulations for gas drilling in New York before the public ever saw the draft.
The Albany Times-Union wrote on June 27 that email exchanges between the state Department of Environmental Conservation and gas industry representatives suggest "an overly cozy relationship."
"This shows beyond a shadow of the doubt that the industry has been in the catbird seat, writing the DEC regs for its benefit," local anti-drilling activist Adrian Kuzminski told The Daily Star on June 28.
The communication wasn't, strictly speaking, a secret. According to the Times-Union, an undated notice on the DEC's website discloses the fact that "the (DEC) participated in outreach to the regulated community through this process, including the solicitation of comments from affected industry."
But "solicitation of comments" can mean a lot of different things.
The DEC solicited comments from the general public, too. But the conversations there seem to have been much more one-sided.
The extensive back-and-forth that took place between the DEC and industry representatives certainly suggests the gas industry enjoyed a privileged position from which to influence the DEC.
The agency is saying it did nothing wrong _ and certainly no laws appear to have been violated. But the public trust, already fragile when it comes to the volatile issue of gas drilling, has taken another blow.
If the DEC truly had nothing to hide, it owed the people of New York more than just a vague one-sentence statement on its website. It should have been more forthright about the scope of its communications with the gas industry. And, more importantly, it should have found a way to extend the same courtesy to those on the other side of the issue.
Strange how no one accuses the DEC of being too "cozy" with environmental groups. It couldn't be because the gas companies are the ones with all the money, could it?