WASHINGTON – The congressional fight over the justification of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico drilling moratorium after the BP oil disaster continued on Wednesday with House Republicans authorizing subpoenas for current and former Interior Department officials.
The debate is expected to resume Thursday with the GOP-controlled House Natural Resources Committee meeting the second time in as many days to question the Interior’s acting inspector general, Mary Kendall.
If she participates she will face questions concerning whether any reports were fraudulently doctored to help justify the now-ceased moratorium.
“From the very beginning, all we have sought is answers, but all we have received is stonewalling,” said committee Chairman and U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
The moratorium was recommended in the wake of the BP tragedy that killed 11 men and resulted in a three-month discharge of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf and along Louisiana’s coast.
Republicans and some Southern Democrats have maintained that the moratorium was either too long or totally unnecessary and resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs.
The U.S. House committee and Hastings have issued multiple subpoenas seeking internal records concerning the development of a report that served as the justification of the offshore drilling moratorium. They have asserted the report may have been intentionally doctored to justify the moratorium.
The 2010 draft report initially stated that some experts were cited as favoring the moratorium, which was not true. President Barack Obama’s administration blamed it on an inadvertent error in the editing process that was corrected. The Interior’s inspector general agreed the mistake was accidental.
In the upper chamber, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has helped lead a push for Kendall to be investigated for an alleged bias as well.
U.S. Reps. Rush Holt, D-N.J., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., called the committee’s effort a “waste of time” that is only trying to embarrass Obama in an election year.
Multiple reports have indicated there were “systemic” flaws in oil-and-gas industry drilling in the Gulf’s Outer Continental Shelf, Holt said, and Congress has failed to act on the recommended regulations and rules changes.
The Republican-controlled committee refuses to subpoena or invite the CEOs of BP and the major oil corporations to testify in Washington, Holt said, but the committee is instead focusing on a few people who made a typo and quickly corrected the error.
Markey noted that one of the U.S. Interior Department employees subpoenaed was, in 2010, employed in a straight-out-of-college, entry-level job and had nothing to do with the issue at hand. Thousands of documents and emails requested by the committee have already been turned over, he said.
“The cooperation has been total,” he said.
Several of the peer reviewers initially misrepresented in the report had supported a “temporary pause” in Gulf drilling, Markey said, but they just were not asked about the full six-month moratorium.
U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, said he only wanted transparency.
“What I’m seeing here today is word games — pause, moratorium,” Fleming said. “The truth is a lot of people in Louisiana lost their jobs — tens of thousands.”
The five current and former Interior Department employees being subpoenaed were invited to testify at a hearing last week, but the event was canceled by Hastings when the Interior Department did not respond. Hastings said the hearing will instead take place in September.
Interior Department Deputy Director of Communications Blake Androff did not respond when specifically asked if the department would comply with the subpoenas.
But Androff did write in an email response, “Interior has made clear that we intend to continue to cooperate with the Committee’s legitimate oversight interests. It is unfortunate that the committee has chosen to pursue a path that continues to waste taxpayer resources re-litigating an issue that was resolved two years ago instead of passing legislation to further enhance offshore oil and gas safety.”