House Democrats Put Salazar in 'Witness Protection Program'

Word came down Thursday evening from the House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats:

“The joint hearing of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and the Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment entitled ‘The Role of the Interior Department in the Deepwater Horizon Disaster,’ scheduled for Tuesday, June 29, 2010 has been postponed.  A new date and time for the hearing is to be determined.”

The star witness of the scheduled hearing?  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), top Republican on the subcommittee has repeatedly requested oversight testimony from the Obama administration on their actions in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion.

The Majority has set up the greatest Witness Protection program this Congress has seen,” Burgess said.  “Secretary Salazar had already agreed to be present for next Tuesday’s hearing, so it appears that the Democrats are delaying this hearing for purely political reasons.”

Big problems arose from Salazar’s appearance before a Senate interior appropriations subcommittee when he testified of his intent to reinstate the offshore drilling ban.  

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in Hornbeck v. Salazar — the case responsible for the injunction against the drilling ban — notified the judge of Salazar’s intent to defy his preliminary injunction after the Salazar testimony.  

As reported on HUMAN EVENTS, the judge on Thursday denied a stay of the injunction pending appeal, delivering a second blow to the Obama administration’s plan to shut down offshore drilling for six months or more.

“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,” Burgess said.  “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 sent a letter to Salazar asking him to prepare answers for oversight questions he would raise in the hearing.  But within hours, the hearing was “delayed” until further notice.

The letter

June 24, 2010

The Honorable Ken Salazar
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC  20240

Dear Secretary Salazar:
I look forward to your testimony before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and Subcommittee on Energy and Environment on June 29, 2010, about your agency’s role and actions relating to the blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and the ongoing oil spill along the Gulf Coast.  Given the integral role of the Department of Interior (the Department) and its component agencies in the oversight and inspections of the Deepwater Horizon rig, drilling equipment, well construction, and well control operations, as well as the post-incident response, I believe your testimony can provide critical information that will assist the Subcommittee’s investigation going forward.

I write respectfully to ask that you be prepared to respond next week in your testimony to questions developing out of our investigation and hearings. In particular, among the questions surrounding federal oversight of the rig prior to the explosion and the related response, I would like you to address the following:

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?

In addition, as the Subcommittee reviews documents provided by the Department, I seek your assurance that the Department will make available to Majority and Minority Committee staff the relevant individuals or officials with knowledge of the application approvals, safety inspections, and related oversight of the Deepwater Horizon operations.  


Michael C. Burgess
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations