Obama’s Spill Commission: Just Window Dressing?

The New York Times has a piece today looking at the special commission that President Obama put together to assess the Gulf disaster. The commission is supposed to assess what happened on the Deepwater Horizon and establish guidelines for how offshore drilling should proceed in the future. This part caught my eye, however, with remarks from commission co-chair William Reilly:

The investigative panel is not charged with determining whether offshore oil development can be conducted safely; rather, its mission is to show how it can resume with greater safeguards.

“The president was clear,” Mr. Reilly said. “He was not inviting us to revise his energy policy. He said he was much more concerned to look ahead than look backward.”

In other words, don’t expect the commission to recommend a revision of the Obama adminstration’s plan to expand offshore oil and gas development.

Call me crazy, but I think we might be missing a step here. Shouldn’t the purpose of this commission be to first evaluate if offshore development can be done safely, and then, if it can be, to then figure out all the safeguards that need to be in place to prevent future BP-like catastrophes?

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised to hear these remarks from Reilly in particular; he has significant ties to the oil industry. But maybe the rest of the spill commission, an impressive group collectively, will have more to say on that.

There are some other concerns raised about the commission in the Times piece. For one, it doesn’t have any staff or budget yet, and probably won’t convene its first meeting until mid-July. (The White House has asked Congress to pony up $15 million for the panel, which also hasn’t happened yet.) The commission also lacks subpoena power right now, though some members of Congress want to pass a bill to grant it that authority.


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn’t fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation so we can keep on doing the type of journalism that 2018 demands.

Donate Now
  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.