Senate panel approves creation of competing Gulf oil spill commission

Senate panel approves creation of competing Gulf oil spill commission

A key Senate panel delivered a rebuke to President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaFor Trump, foreign policy should begin and end with China Harvard spat between Clinton, Trump camps proves Dems can't accept Trump's improving Wrestling mogul McMahon could slam her way into Trump administration MORE on Wednesday in approving the creation of a bipartisan oil spill commission that would effectively compete with his own.


Five Democrats joined all 10 Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in agreeing to create a new bipartisan panel whose members would mostly be appointed by Congress.

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The proposal — offered by Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoGOP lawmaker outlines goal to repeal and replace ObamaCare Pressure builds on M ObamaCare funding case as others wait GOP unveils bill to block ObamaCare 'bailout' MORE (R-Wyo.) — would establish a commission of 10 whose members would be appointed equally by the two parties, with Obama naming the chairman and congressional leaders selecting the vice chairman and remaining eight members. The commission would have subpoena power, which the Obama-appointed panel does not.

Barrasso said the newly proposed commission — which he said is modeled after the 9/11 Commission — is needed to provide a “truly unbiased bipartisan review” of offshore drilling in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico spill. Obama’s commission “appears to me to be stacked with people philosophically opposed to offshore drilling,” Barrasso said.

In particular, Republicans have criticized the selection of Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke, a leading critic of offshore drilling. But some Democrats raised concerns as well.

“I would suggest to my Democratic friends that if the shoe were on the other foot, and President Bush was the president and he had submitted a list of names like this to us and everyone was related to the defense of oil companies, we would say this is not fair,” Sen. Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuFive unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist Trump’s implosion could cost GOP in Louisiana Senate race MORE (D-La.) said. “And I’m saying to my colleagues this is not fair.”

But Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Tech: Venture capitalists' message to Trump | Bitcoin site ordered to give IRS data | Broadband gets faster Dem senator: Hold hearing on Russian interference in election Scott Brown suggests voter fraud in NH without evidence MORE (D-N.H.) added, “If there are questions about the views of the presidential commission … then I would err on the side [of] saying let’s get another point of view on the issue.”

Obama by executive order on May 21 established a commission co-chaired by former Florida Sen. Bob Graham (D) and William Reilly, a Republican who headed the Environmental Protection Agency under former President George H.W. Bush. Its official name is the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

The administration has halted deepwater offshore oil-and-gas drilling while the commission develops recommendations; Reilly has suggested those may not come until next year.

Barrasso’s amendment gives the new commission 180 days to develop its recommendations.

In arguing against creating a new commission, Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said Obama “appointed two outstanding individuals to chair that commission.” He called it “bipartisan and … distinguished” and said that another commission is “unlikely to shed more light on the causes of this catastrophic accident and event.” 

But Republicans not only attracted Landrieu — who often sides with Republicans in trying to balance the need to address the Gulf spill with protecting crucial oil-and-gas-industry interests in her state — but also Democrats Shaheen, Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Mark UdallMark UdallGardner's chief of staff tapped for Senate GOP campaign director The untold stories of the 2016 battle for the Senate Colorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open MORE (Colo.).

“I think Sen. Barrasso made an excellent point that Congress ought to have its voice heard,” Udall told The Hill.

The bipartisan support for Barrasso’s plan “makes the case that the committee isn’t operating on a pro-forma basis; we listen to each other here,” Udall said.

But the bipartisanship shown in that panel stands in stark contrast to much of the congressional debate on how best to address the Gulf spill and future spills.

Over on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday, Republicans tried, unsuccessfully, to get approval for a plan giving the president the discretion to determine whether and how much to raise an oil company’s liability cap in the event of a major oil spill.

Democrats — who outnumber Republicans 12-7 on the panel — instead easily adopted a proposal from Sen. Robert MenendezRobert MenendezThe right person for State Department is Rudy Giuliani Warren, Menendez question shakeup at Wells Fargo Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal MORE (D-N.J.) that would retroactively remove any liability cap on economic damages for BP and companies involved in future spills. Sen. David VitterDavid VitterPoll: Republican holds 14-point lead in Louisiana Senate runoff Louisiana dishes last serving of political gumbo Trump tweets about flag burning, setting off a battle MORE (R-La.) was the lone GOP supporter of the Menendez plan.
Republicans got a sympathetic ear from the one centrist Democrat on the panel — Sen. Max BaucusMax BaucusThe mysterious sealed opioid report fuels speculation Lobbying World Even Steven: How would a 50-50 Senate operate? MORE (Mont.).

Baucus voted against the Republican substitute from Environment and Public Works ranking member James InhofeJames InhofeFeds to consider renewed protections for bird species Trump’s nominees may face roadblocks ‘Covert propaganda’ in federal rulemaking MORE (Okla.) but said he shares some of their concerns about removing the liability cap entirely and will try to make fixes later.