Zero Accountability For Salazar; Energy & Commerce Committee Postpones Testimony

Via Human Events, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has been given a pass from testimony in front of the House Energy & Commerce committee on Tuesday. Two subcommittees within Energy & Commerce – the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and the Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment – had scheduled a joint hearing entitled “The Role of the Interior Department in the Deepwater Horizon Disaster” for that date, with Salazar as the star witness to testify.

But the hearing was scrubbed.

Salazar is currently at the heart of several troubling questions – among them:

Given these swirling controversies, it would appear that Salazar has much to answer for. Perhaps for that reason, subcommittee chairmen Bart Stupak and Ed Markey decided to scratch the joint hearing. In doing so, however, the Democrats atop the two subcommittees have unleashed a volcano of outrage among Republicans. 

“The Majority has set up the greatest Witness Protection program this Congress has seen,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) said this afternoon.  “It has been 67 days since the spill began, and we still have no sworn testimony or documents from the Obama administration before this committee. 

“Given the frustration of the public with BP and the administration’s handling of the oil spill and response, one would think the Democrats would be eager to find out why federal authorities approved BP drilling plans and what role the federal government played in responding to the oil spill.  We need answers to a host of questions and soon — the American people are demanding answers now.”

Burgess’ ire is particularly hot, given that it was a letter he sent to Salazar on Thursday which appeared to precipitate the hearing’s disappearance. In the letter, Burgess outlined five questions he intended to ask the Secretary:

1.    What were the Department’s interactions with BP and/or the Deepwater Horizon rig personnel during the week prior to the incident?  What communications occurred during that time period between Department and rig personnel, including on the date of the explosion?   

2.    What specific role has the Department played in responding to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, including the initial response and the ongoing response efforts?  What assets and personnel have been deployed? What role has the Department played in Unified Command decision-making?

3.    What role did Department requirements and regulations play in the development of oil spill risk models used by oil producers in their response plans filed with the Department? According to the June 24, 2010, Wall Street Journal article, BP Relied on Faulty U.S. Data (attached), oil companies were required to rely on what the Department understood were government computer models of questionable accuracy.  Is this true?  What is the Department doing to improve computer modeling?

4.    Your May 27, 2010, report to the President entitled Increased Safety Measures for Energy Development of the Outer Continental Shelf  lists 23 Department-sponsored studies over the past two decades which evaluated the use of well control techniques and equipment, including casing, cementing, mud, pressure control valves, and blow out preventers.  Have the recommendations of all of these studies been implemented by the Department and used when evaluating drilling operations and well designs?  Is the Department  evaluating implementation of these safety recommendations during inspections?

5.    On May 30, 2010, you ordered an extended moratorium on offshore drilling, based upon your May 27, 2010, report to President Obama referenced above.  On June 22, 2010, a federal judge struck down this moratorium and granted a preliminary injunction.  In partial response to this decision, you announced that you would issue an order in support of a new version of the moratorium. What is your assessment of the direct and indirect employment impacts in the Gulf of Mexico region and elsewhere in the United States that may result from the moratorium and related notice to lessees (NTL)?  What does the Administration estimate will be the cumulative and long-term economic impacts of the moratorium and related NTL?  What economic or employment analyses have been prepared or considered by the Department relating to the effects of the moratorium and related NTL?  Could you make those available to the Committee?

As Human Events reports, mere hours after Burgess’ questions were proferred to Salazar, the hearing was scrubbed.

It might be that in lieu of Judge Feldman’s order from yesterday, in which Interior was not forbidden from imposing a new moratorium but was put on notice that they will have 30 days to prove compliance with the order, Salazar realized that another performance like the one he had in front of a Senate committee Wednesday in which he boasted about a new moratorium would likely land him in hot water with the judge – and thus told the subcommittee heads it was time for him to clam up.

Either way, the Interior Secretary is effectively fleeing from the public while engaged in behavior destructive to the livelihoods of innocent American citizens as questions about his integrity and honesty percolate. But given Salazar’s ignominious tenure so far, it doesn’t take a Congressional investigation to uncover the smell coming from his desk.

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