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House Panel to Subpoena Interior on Moratorium Documents

The House Natural Resources Committee plans to subpoena the Interior Department to obtain documents related to a report that allegedly had been altered to suggest that the National Academy of Engineering had endorsed a decision to impose a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) in 2010.

"The committee has patiently and diligently tried for over a year to seek compliance from the Interior Department for our document requests. The administration has proven it is unwilling to cooperate and is actively preventing this committee from carrying out its oversight authority," said Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA).

"Therefore, we have been left with no other choice but to move forward with subpoenas...Serious questions remain regarding the administration's actions, and I hope the ability to issue subpoenas will shed light on how and why decisions were made," he said.

In July 2010 two Republicans on the House committee, including Hastings, 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 a report to justify the moratorium on deepwater drilling in the GOM (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. The Obama administration indicated that the alteration was due to "last minute editing," but Hastings' committee is trying to determine whether more was involved, a committee spokesman said.

Interior issued the report imposing the moratorium in May 2010. In the report, Interior said it drew expertise from "within the federal government, academia, professional engineers, industry and other governments' regulatory programs." In particular the report said seven members of the National Academy of Engineering peer-reviewed the recommendations, making it appear as if they also supported the recommendations to impose a drilling moratorium.

However, the peer reviewers were not in fact asked to evaluate the drilling ban, which was inserted into the report shortly before it was finalized and without any scientific or technical review or analysis of economic impacts, according to the committee.

Despite assurances of cooperation from the Obama administration, Hastings said Interior has failed to comply with a single deadline and continues to withhold the vast majority of requested material.

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