Why Did Bipartisan Oil Spill Commission Die In Speaker’s Office?

This piece originally ran in the Washington Examiner

In his May 22 weekly address, President Obama announced the creation of a National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, “tasked with providing recommendations on how we can prevent – and mitigate the impact of – any future spills that result from offshore drilling.”

He added that the commission’s membership “will include broad and diverse representation of individuals with relevant expertise.”

At the time, those were encouraging words.  In order to prevent another spill, we need to know what went wrong at the Deepwater Horizon rig and how to fix it.  To do so, we need people with “relevant expertise” investigating.

However, Obama appointed a seven member commission “loaded up on politicians and environmental activists,” as the Wall Street Journal reports.  The Associated Press expressed similar suspicion of the president’s commission, noting that the panel is “short on technical experts.”  And that’s being generous.

The president’s commission isn’t just “short” on technical expertise; it has none.  There are no petroleum engineers on the panel and no one with experience in offshore drilling.

This is not to malign the panelists Obama appointed.  Despite their technical inexperience, they have demonstrated considerably more wisdom regarding domestic energy production than the president and other administration officials.

For example, the co-chairs of the president’s commission have both recognized “the economic dislocation and the hardship caused by the moratorium” and asked why, after three months, the administration insists on keeping it, despite the objections of independent experts from the National Academy of Engineering.

Nonetheless, a complete understanding of the root causes of the Deepwater Horizon incident requires technical expertise. Too much is at stake for politics or ideology to interfere with the critical task of investigating this tragedy and making American energy production the safest in the world.

Our economy and national security depend on an affordable, reliable energy supply.  And hundreds of thousands of middle class families count on deepwater rigs for jobs.

In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, Congress established a credible, bipartisan commission to review systemic failures precipitating the attacks and to make recommendations for fixing them.

The 9/11 Commission was a thoroughly nonpartisan and professional venture, and the United States benefitted greatly from its work.

A commission of similar construction should be empanelled to investigate the Deepwater Horizon incident.  On July 14, the Natural Resources Committee agreed unanimously, passing an amendment I offered to the CLEAR Act (HR 3534) to create the National Commission on Outer Continental Shelf Oil Spill Prevention.

Unlike the president’s, this commission emphasizes the appointment of members with technical expertise in petroleum engineering.  The 10-member commission would be appointed jointly by both parties, with the president appointing its chairman and congressional leadership appointing the remaining members.

An identical amendment, sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, passed in the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee June 30, with the support of Democratic senators from New Hampshire, South Dakota, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Colorado.

Despite strong bipartisan passage in the Senate and unanimous passage in the House Natural Resources Committee, where even liberal stalwarts like Reps. Ed Markey, D-MA, and George Miller, D-CA, supported it, the amendment was stripped from the underlying bill in the Speaker’s office before it got to the House floor.




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