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Interior official: Minerals Management Service to divide into two agencies

The troubled federal agency that oversees all aspects of offshore leasing will split in two in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion, an Interior official confirmed Tuesday.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to announce this afternoon that the Minerals Management Service will divide its regulatory and revenue collection functions.

The split addresses one of the main criticisms of the agency in the days following an oil explosion that killed 11 and continues to spew oil from the sea floor into the Gulf of Mexico: that the agency is too cozy with the industry it regulates. Splitting its functions will address that conflict -- currently MMS is responsible for regulating offshore drilling, but also for leasing tracts on the outer continental shelf and collecting royalties on the oil and gas they produce.

An Interior official said their move won't require congressional approval, although such a proposal had been advanced on Capitol Hill and is expected to be discussed today as two Senate committees begin oversight hearings.

Top executives from three companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster will face a barrage of questions on today from angry senators eager to make it clear they intend to hold someone responsible for the blowout. In testimony released Monday in advance of the hearngs, it's also clear the three companies will have another source of finger-pointing — each other.

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