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House Dems Whack Cheney Over Oil Spill


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The Hill:

House Dems whack Cheney over oil spill
By Ben Geman - 07/20/10 11:09 AM ET

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee traded partisan blows Tuesday over whether the Obama administration or the former Bush administration deserves more blame for the catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Senior Democrats on the panel — Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) — used a hearing on the Interior Department’s role to trace the disaster back to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy policy task force.

Waxman said that task force — which was assembled early in the Bush administration — set the stage for policies that pushed drilling at the expense of tough safety oversight of rigs and review of environmental risks.

“The cop on the beat was off-duty for nearly a decade and this gave rise to a dangerous culture of permissiveness,” Waxman said. “In many ways this history begins with Vice President Cheney’s secretive energy task force.”

Waxman said that under the Bush-era Interior Department, “the priority was more drilling first and safety second,” although he added that the current administration was also too hands-off before the spill.

Waxman said the Bush-era lease sale that included the tract where BP’s drilling eventually went awry should have been preceded by much stronger environmental reviews about the sale’s effects.

Markey also bashed the Bush administration.

“Seven years before this spill, the Bush administration exempted most Gulf of Mexico leaseholders from having to include blowout scenarios in their oil and gas exploration or production plans. Oil companies were also no longer required to say how long it would take to drill a relief well, and how a blowout could be contained by capping the well,” he said.

But committee Republicans noted that BP’s actual drilling of its ill-fated Macondo well was approved under the Obama administration.

“There is going to be a time when this administration is going to have to accept some responsibility, maybe not all, but at least a smidgen, a little bit — they are going to have to say ‘yeah, this happened on our watch,’” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.).

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the ranking member of the committee, attacked the Obama administration’s response to the spill on a number of fronts, including an allegation it has failed to adequately ensure that foreign ships can participate in the cleanup.

“Americans want to understand what the Obama administration’s response to the oil spill was and is,” he said.

Gale Norton and Dirk Kempthorne, who served as Interior secretaries under former President George W. Bush, are witnesses at the hearing. Current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is also testifying.
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