Subpoenaed: GOP wants to know why Obama administration misled Americans on drilling ban

President Obama’s offshore drilling moratorium following the 2010 oil spill caused widespread job losses and a significant drop in energy production in the Gulf of Mexico. Two years later, a U.S. House committee wants to know why the administration misled the public about the drilling ban.

The House Natural Resources Committee yesterday issued its first subpoena to the Department of the Interior after Secretary Ken Salazar refused to turn over documents related to the moratorium. At issue is why Salazar’s department suggested a panel of engineering experts supported the drilling ban when in fact they did not.

Despite the Obama administration’s transparency promises, Salazar has rebuffed the committee’s requests and stymied the department’s inspector general investigation. Salazar, who previously apologized, was defiant when asked about the subpoena:

The bottom line is I’m very comfortable with everything we did including the time out and reset button that we had to put in place in the Gulf of Mexico. What the House Natural Resources and energy committee is doing is simply a distraction in the name of politics.

Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (D-WA) said it was important to understand what happened and why Salazar failed to conduct any technical, scientific or economic analysis prior to imposing the drilling ban. He gave the department one week to produce the documents. The subpoena was a last resort for the committee.

The administration’s controversial moratorium — and the subsequent permitorium that followed — caused economic hardships throughout the Gulf region and in communities across America. A recent survey of employers, conducted by Greater New Orleans Inc., revealed 41 percent of businesses are not making a profit and 76 percent have lost cash revenues.

One of the region’s business owners, Leslie Bertucci of R&D Enterprises, shared her story about the moratorium’s impact:

At the time Salazar imposed the drilling ban, he justified his action with a May 27, 2010, report that recommended a six-month drilling moratorium. That recommendation was allegedly supported by seven members of the National Academy of Engineering, who had peer-reviewed the report.

But only after Salazar imposed the job-killing moratorium did Americans learn the truth: Political appointees at the White House and Department of Interior inserted the moratorium recommendation without the knowledge of the seven experts. They subsequently rebutted the implication and went a step further to note the ban “will not measurably reduce risk further and it will have a lasting impact on the nation’s economy which may be greater than that of the oil spill.”

When the department’s inspector general sought information on the incident, administration official stonewalled investigators. That ultimately led to yesterday’s subpoena. The documents sought include:

All documents created, sent, or received by Steve Black, Neal Kemkar, Mary Katherine Ishee, David Hayes and Ted Strickland between April 26, 2010 and June 30, 2010 related to the development, editing, review, issuance, response, or reaction to the May 27, 2010 Department of the Interior report that included a recommendation for a six-month drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico.

All 13 documents that the Interior Department has intervened to block the Acting Inspector General from providing to the Committee.

Rob Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism operation at The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @RobertBluey