GOP Still Thwarting Spill Panel

| Thu Sep. 30, 2010 10:15 AM EDT

The National Oil Spill Commission continues its investigation into the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill, but the president's panel remains hampered by its inability to compel key witnesses to testify and turn over documents. Senate Republicans blocked a bill to grant the commission subpoena power in July. Now the Senate has gone home once without moving the measure forward.

The House passed the measure with nearly unanimous support in June, by a vote of 420 to 1. But the following month Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) objected to moving it forward, though he said he was just blocking it on behalf of another member of his caucus. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who has led the effort to get the bill passed in the upper chamber, tried to work out a way to get it through as a stand-alone measure before senators departed this week, but that didn't happen. While Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said back in July that the Senate GOP would drop the objection, his spokesman told the Wall Street Journal this week that he had changed his mind; Republicans would again block the measure because they want a "congressionally appointed panel, not a panel appointed by Mr. Obama that some Republicans view as partisan."

Obviously, the stalemate in the Senate is the cause of much frustration these days. The spill commission is supposed to deliver a report on the disaster and recommendations for the future of offshore drilling to the president by mid-January, but is significantly limited by the inability to force witnesses to appear before the panel or provide necessary documents. The Houston Chronicle reports that commissioners are growing frustrated:

Bob Graham, Reilly's co-chairman, said Congress' inaction is curtailing investigators' attempts to sort out conflicting reports from workers involved.
"What we want to be able to do is put all of these people under ... oath and drill down as deep as necessary in order to resolve this conflict," said Graham, a former Democratic senator and governor from Florida. "Now, we are dependent on people voluntarily providing us information. If they choose not to cooperate, that's their prerogative, and we don't have any redress."

Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), one of the sponsors of the House bill to give the commission some teeth, is also more than a little annoyed at the Senate impasse. "While the commission is getting to the bottom of how this catastrophe happened, BP and other companies involved with the spill are still giving it the runaround," she said. "Without this critical tool – which the co-chairmen have asked for–Big Oil will keep stonewalling the investigation in the hopes they can escape being held accountable for their mistakes."

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