Senators Intro Bill to Give Oil Spill Panel Power of Subpoena

A group of 10 Democratic senators introduced legislation on Tuesday that would grant subpoena power to the oil spill commission that President Obama appointed last month. The power of subpoena would allow the panel to force witnesses to testify or produce evidence for the investigation. 

“Subpoena power is absolutely necessary to make sure that all responsible parties provide us with the information and evidence we need in order to prevent an economic and environmental disaster of this magnitude from ever happening again,” said Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), one of the bill’s cosponsors.

John Kerry (D-Mass.), another sponsor of the legislation, said that without subpoena power, “a commission is just window dressing.”

Obama announced the formation of the panel on May 22, appointing former Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and former Republican EPA administrator William K. Reilly as the two co-chairs. The panel is charged with investigating what happened to lead up to the explosion and spill from the Deepwater Horizon, and how to move forward with offshore drilling. Additional members will be added to the panel in the coming weeks. The president, however, cannot grant the commission subpoena power, which would allow it to access crucial information — documents, videos, witnesses and anything else that might be needed for the investigation.

In addition to Kerry and Shaheen, the bill’s sponsors are: Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mark Begich (D-Ark.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

The commission is expected to issue a report on the Deepwater Horizon spill and recommendations for future of offshore drilling to the president by the end of the year. But as of last week, Graham said it still hadn’t talked to BP. Meanwhile, some have criticized Reilly’s ties to the oil industry as possibly affecting his ability to preside over the panel.

UPDATE: The White House issued a statement noting that while the president can’t give the commission subpoena power, he “has committed the full cooperation of the federal government to the Commission and its mandate,” said spokesman Ben LaBolt. “The President looks forward to working with Members of Congress to ensure that the Commission has the tools and resources it needs to get the job done and that nothing slows down the efforts to get the Commission up and running as soon as possible.”