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House Panel Subpoenas Interior's Deepwater Moratorium Documents

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) wants the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) to turn over 13 documents related to the imposition of the May 2010 moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), contending that Interior has blocked the acting OIG from releasing documents to the committee.

A subpoena was issued to OIG after the department last Tuesday failed to produce the 13 documents for the House committee. "Instead of complying with a subpoena and disclosing documents on its actions, the Interior Department sent a three-page letter providing excuses under a facade of cooperation. These exact same delaying tactics have been used for months and further stonewalling is unacceptable," Hastings said.

The committee earlier this month subpoenaed the documents from Interior, which were allegedly altered by the Obama administration to suggest that experts from the National Academy of Engineering had endorsed the moratorium on deepwater drilling when in fact they had not (see NGI, April 2).

In a letter responding to the subpoena Tuesday, Interior's Christopher Mansour, director of Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, wrote that "the department is disappointed that after nearly a year of working with your staff to understand and accommodate the committee's asserted interests in the [May 2010] report, we have reached a point where the committee has taken the unnecessary and precipitous step of issuing a subpoena." The administration's May 2010 report recommended that a moratorium be imposed on deepwater drilling in the GOM following the Macondo well blowout that led to an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig, which resulted in 11 men being killed (see NGI, April 26, 2010).

In the past year since the committee began its investigation, Mansour noted that Interior has responded to the committee's requests by "producing nearly 1,000 pages of documents as well as making multiple offers of accommodation that have included in camera reviews of documents and briefings in which we have provided information directly responsive to the committee's articulated concerns."

Interior last Tuesday turned over 164 pages of additional communications with the peer reviewers from the National Academy of Engineering, "with an additional production [of materials] to occur later this week," Mansour said. The documents "will demonstrate that, as the department has said all along, the peer reviewers applied their expertise to the technical recommendations in the [May 2010] report and were not asked to review the secretary's policy recommendations regarding the moratorium." Interior also has offered for in camera review the May 25, 2010 draft of the executive summary of the moratorium report, as well as in camera review of a draft of the executive summary that was exchanged between Interior and the White House on May 26, 2010, prior to the report being issued, he said.

In July 2010 Hastings and another Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee called on Interior Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall to open an investigation into allegations that the Obama administration altered peer-reviewed recommendations by experts in the report to justify the deepwater drilling moratorium (see NGI, July 26, 2010). Kendall's office concluded later in 2010 that the White House changed the Interior report to suggest that experts peer reviewed and supported the administration's decision to impose a blanket moratorium on drilling in the GOM (see NGI, Nov. 15, 2010). The Obama administration said the alteration was due to "last minute editing," but Hastings' committee is trying to determine whether there was more involved.

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