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Archive for September 2011

Administration blocks Oil Spill Report lead investigators from testifying before Congress

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House Resources Chairman Doc Hastings request for a “Prompt Hearing on BOEMRE/Coast Guard Spill Report” is foiled by Administration delays. 

In an odd game of who gets to talk to whom, the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee’s attempts to have, in the words of the Committee’s press release a “Prompt Hearing on BOEMRE/Coast Guard Spill Report” on the oil spill at the Macondo well and the loss of the Transocean drill platform which resulted in the spill of millions of gallons of oil and the loss of 11 lives, has been foiled – or at least delayed a bit.

photo of the drilling platform Deepwater Horizon

The loss of Transocean's Deepwater Horizon drilling platform and the wellhead blowout spilled millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico and took the lives of 11 workers on the platform. A joint U.S. Coast Guard and DOI report has been released detailing the government's findings on the causes of the disaster. Now Congress has expressed interest in quickly speaking with the lead investigators in a hearing in the House, but disagreements between the Committee and the Administration over who can speak about the report is resulting in delays in the hearing schedule. Originally scheduled for this morning, the hearing has been moved to October 6, 2011.

On September 14th the Natural Resource Committee released a statement that “On Friday, September 23rd, the Natural Resources Committee will hold a Full Committee oversight hearing on the final report of the BOEMRE/U.S. Coast Guard Joint Investigation Team.”

It then went on to add that:

“After repeated delays, the federal government is finally releasing the findings of its investigation into the tragic Deepwater Horizon incident,” Chairman Hastings said. “This is another significant report on the disaster and I’m hopeful it will give us a clearer picture about what happened so Congress, industry and the Administration can move forward responsibly and appropriately. We have waited far too long for this report, but the Committee is ready to take action and a hearing is now officially scheduled for next week. I’m confident that with a far more complete reporting of the facts, we will be able to take a thoughtful approach to real reforms to ensure continued safe American energy production.”

However, in order to get down to a back and forth dialogue about the facts and findings in the report there needs to be witnesses to testify to the facts and answer questions from members of both parties.  That part isn’t going very well at the moment.

In a press release on September 23rd House Natural Resource Committee Chairman Doc Hastings announced that “tomorrow’s Full Committee oversight hearing on the final report of the BOEMRE/U.S. Coast Guard Joint Investigation Team (JIT) will be postponed until October 6, 2011 due to the Obama Administration’s last-minute refusal to allow investigation team members to testify.”

“It took far too long for the final report to be issued and the Obama Administration is now further delaying proper oversight by suddenly refusing to allow members of the investigation team to testify. Based on numerous conversations between Committee staff and the Administration, it was confirmed that investigators from the BOEM and Coast Guard team would be testifying at Friday’s hearing. We were informed today, one day prior to the hearing, that this had changed. It’s unacceptable for the Committee not to be able to hear from the actual investigators who conducted the investigation and wrote the report.

“It’s always been my intention to first hear from the investigators about their findings, in order to get all the facts, and then hear from the specific companies that are cited in the report. The companies have been notified of this fact. The Administration’s actions are complicating and compromising the Committee’s ability to move forward on this matter.

One presumed rationale for asking the report’s lead investigators and authors to directly testify, rather that having senior Administration officials from DOI and the USCG testify – a common practice in DC where leadership typically responds to Congressional inquiries, not the career rank an file – if because Chairman Hastings is believed to be interested in asking not only substantive questions about the report itself, but to also ask questions about the reasons for the multiple delays in the production of the report. While that question has not yet been posed to any investigators from the joint report, some on the Hill are assuming that the delays are the result of DC agency leadership fighting with the report’s authors about language which would appear in the final report. At this stage there seems to be little evidence of a heavy hand by the agency leaderships or by the White House, but proving or dispelling that theory is being made difficult by the Administration’s refusal to allow the investigation team members to testify.

The current employment status of one of the lead investigators is surely a concern for the Administration – the Department Interior’s lead investigator, David Dykes, a former Minerals Management Service employee who worked for over a decade for MMS, has left government employment and now holds a new job.

On September 14th Time Magazine Senior Reporter Brian Walsh Tweeted “BOEMRE’s lead investigator on BP spill, J. David Dykes, left the agency earlier this month. New job: Chevron”

While this is obviously awkward for the Administration, it is unclear why efforts would be made to block the U.S. Coast Guard’s lead investigator as his failure to appear before the Natural Resources Committee only invites theories about the Administration’s motives, and gives fuel to the fire of those positioning to paint the report as something other than an accurate description of the investigators’ findings.

The Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team Final Report can be found through the following links:

Chapters of the final JIT Investigative Report:

The Natural Resources Committee hearing, now scheduled for October 6, 2011, will occur in room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building.  For those not in Washington DC and unable to attend in person the Committee will stream the video live on the internet.  Check out http://naturalresources.house.gov/ URL for the link to the live webcast on October 6, 2011.

photo of the The blowout preventer of the Deepwater Horizon on a barge

The blowout preventer of the Deepwater Horizon is transported on the Mississippi River into New Orleans, Sept. 11, 2010. The blowout preventer was DOI BOEM/US Coast Guard investigation determine the circumstances surrounding the explosion, fire, pollution, and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon platform. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephen Lehmann.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert



Non-partisan and Optimistic: Oceans bring out the best in Congress

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On Tuesday September 13, 2011, a non-partisan and optimistic group of senators came together to kick off the establishment of the Senate Oceans Caucus in the United States Senate. With remarks centered around bragging about who has more coastline or whose state borders not just one but two oceans, the mood was refreshingly friendly and full of optimism. With remarks about the common ground (water?) that brings them together these group of Senators seemed, well, positively senatorial. Acting with a sense of leadership and a commitment to protect those things that Americans hold dear, tonight there not only was an absence of the partisan bickering that has caused the Capitol to come to a virtual screeching halt but there was also actual friendly optimism indicating that we can work together in D.C.

Kicked off by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and followed up by co-chair Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) the remarks by all tonight centered around what we can do together rather than what we can do to do to undermine each other.

And if bi-partisan wasn’t enough, Representative Sam Farr, chair of the House Coastal Caucus, stopped by expressing his enthusiasm for the formation of an ocean-minder coalition in the Senate making oceans a bicameral effort.

As Senator Whitehouse remarked “this is day one.” The real test of the effectiveness of the caucus begins now.

The remarks of Senators Whitehouse and Murkowski from the Senate Oceans Caucus reception are available as MP3 files for download below.

microphone   http://whnuckolsconsulting.com/audio/whitehouse.MP3


photo of Senators kicking off the Senate Oceans Caucus

Senators Whitehouse and Murkowski will co-chair the bi-partisan Senate Oceans Caucus that was formed on September 13, 2011.

The members of the Caucus are: Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Scott Brown (R-MA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), John Kerry (D-MA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Also in attendance were a number of Obama Administration officials including Dr. John Holdren from OSTP, Nancy Sutley from CEQ and Jane Lubchenco from NOAA.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com
You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert