Posted 22September 2011, by David Hammer (The Times-Pacayune), New Orleans Net (NOLA), nola.com
A U.S. House committee was forced to postpone a hearing on the findings of a federal investigation into the causes of the BP oil spill because the Obama administration suddenly refused to let investigators testify, the committee chairman said.
The alleged silencing of the members of the joint Coast Guard and Interior Department investigative team comes in the wake of the sudden resignation of Interior’s lead investigator, Hammond resident David Dykes.
In a news release late Thursday afternoon, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, blasted the Obama administration.
“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,” Hastings said in a statement.
Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and the Coast Guard said they never wanted “line investigators” to testify. They are seeking to clarify that with Hastings at a meeting Friday, apparently to offer more senior agency officials to testify.
“BOEMRE and the Coast Guard were responsive to Chairman Hastings and his Committee’s request late last week for a hearing. However, we felt strongly from the beginning it was inappropriate for BOEMRE and Coast Guard line investigators to testify, and presented alternative options,” a joint statement from the two agencies said.
Before the final investigative report bearing his name was released, Dykes resigned after 12 years at BOEMRE and its predecessor agency, the Minerals Management Service. He went to work for Chevron Corp.
His investigative team oversaw the most comprehensive probe into what happened April 20 on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded and sank, killing 11 men and sending nearly 5 million barrels of crude into the Gulf.
Tensions between Dykes’ team and officials at the federal agency’s Washington headquarters were on the rise during a long delay in the release of the report, according to a Sept. 13 story in the Wall Street Journal. The investigative report missed two deadlines, raising speculation about battles over the report’s wording.
President Barack Obama’s Oil Spill Commission came up with significantly different findings about the cause of the spill than the Coast Guard-Interior report that was finally released last week. The presidential commission, with no subpoena power, determined the root causes of the spill were systemic and industry-wide, something that some experts disagreed with. By contrast, the Coast Guard-Interior report, the official accident investigation based on months of sworn testimony and subpoenaed records, placed the blame for key causes of the explosion squarely at BP’s feet.
The Oil Spill Commission’s findings in January helped justify the administration’s deepwater drilling moratorium and cautious approach to resuming drilling activity under new permitting standards. The industry has long argued that a slowdown in drilling can’t be justified if the causes of the Deepwater Horizon incident are specific to BP’s management decisions.
Hastings said he notified the Interior Department and the Coast Guard that he “expects” the two chairmen of the investigative team, Dykes and Coast Guard Capt. Hung Nguyen, to be available to testify at a rescheduled hearing Oct. 6.
Dykes and a spokesman from Chevron did not comment late Thursday.
David Hammer can be reached at email@example.com