Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Presidential Commission & Congressional Hearings On BP Oil Spill

May 17: Various media reports including the New York Times and Associated Press indicate that President Obama will establish by Executive Order, within the next two days, an independent commission to investigate the BP Gulf oil spill and the governments role in the matter. On May 4, Daniel Weiss, of the Center for American Progress (CAP's) Director of Climate Strategy, wrote, "We need an independent commission to investigate the BP disaster." Now CAP reports on its Climate Progress blog that the White House is doing just that. CAP indicated that the White House indicated that the President's action will occur on Tuesday or Wednesday.
    Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) issued a release saying the President's action would Follow legislation introduced by him and Representative Lois Capps (D-CA), calling for the President to appoint an independent commission to look into the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and make recommendations to avoid such disasters in the future. Markey said, "Whether it's a nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island or an oil blowout one mile deep, appointing an independent review panel is critical to reduce the risks of future accidents. Following the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown, President Carter appointed an independent panel to investigate the cause of the meltdown and recommend safety improvements. President Obama creating an independent blue-ribbon panel on this oil spill will help provide the recommendations to ensure that similar disasters do not happen again." Markey and Capps introduced the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Inquiry Commission Act of 2010 (H.R. 5241) on May 6, 2010. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), with cosponsors Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), has introduced a companion proposal, S. 3344.
    Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued a statement saying, "The magnitude of the Gulf oil drilling disaster demands an equally sizable response by the White House. The establishment of a presidential commission to investigate this disaster, as was done following the Three Mile Island and Challenger disasters, is a critical step to providing an independent, unbiased assessment of what happened and how such disasters can be averted in the future. To be effective, the commission should be charged with examining the causes of the current spill as well as the adequacy of oil spill containment and clean-up measures. We also need the commission to determine whether and how such spills can be avoided in the future. And it needs to assess the implications of its findings for drilling in, or adjacent to sensitive or ecologically important areas, including in the Arctic. Finally, the commission should be called on to make recommendations on how to strengthen laws, regulations and reform agency oversight in order to keep this from happening again."
    Today (May 18), three Senate Committees -- Energy and Natural Resources (ENR); Commerce, Science, and Transportation (CST); and Environment and Public Works (EPW) -- are all holding hearings to examine the BP oil spill. The ENR hearing will feature testimony from Ken Salazar, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior. The CST hearing features the heads of the Coast Guard and NOAA, along with the heads of BP, Transocean and a principal with Applied Science Associates, Inc. The EPW hearing includes the representatives from EPA, DOI CEQ, Army Corps, Coast Guard and the Economic Development Administration.
    In addition to the Congressional hearings, Representative Markey also queried the U.S. EPA on May 17, on the dangers of applying oil-dispersing chemicals deep underwater as an effort to mitigate the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. In the letter sent to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Markey raises questions about the potential toxicity of the trademarked formulation, called Corexit, and whether the chemical could be contributing to new reports of large undersea "plumes" of oil suspended thousands of feet below the water's surface. Markey said, "The release of hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemicals into the Gulf of Mexico could be an unprecedented, large and aggressive experiment on our oceans. The information regarding the chemical composition, efficacy and toxicity of the dispersants currently being used is scarce."
    In a release the same day, EPA and the Coast Guard announced they had authorized BP to use dispersants underwater, at the source of the Deepwater Horizon leak. The agencies said, "Dispersants are generally less harmful than the highly toxic oil leaking from the source and they biodegrade in a much shorter time span. The use of the dispersant at the source of the leak represents a novel approach to addressing the significant environmental threat posed by the spill." [See WIMS 5/17/10].
    Access a release from CAP's Climate Progress with links to related information (click here). Access a release from Representative Markey (click here). Access a release from Senator Whitehouse (click here). Access a release from NRDC (click here). Access the ENR hearing website for links to testimony and a webcast (click here). Access the CST hearing website for links to testimony and a webcast (click here). Access the EPW hearing website for links to testimony and a webcast (click here). Access a release from Rep. Markey and link to the letter to EPA (click here). Access the White House website on the BP spill which contains links to all Federal agency response websites (click here). Access the BP response website (click here).