Obama Administration Officials Testify on Edits Made to Drilling Moratorium Report

September 17, 2012

Last week, the House Natural Resources Committee held a Full Committee oversight hearing on “Committee Oversight of Department of the Interior: Questioning of Key Department of the Interior Officials.” The hearing, part of the Committee’s long-running investigation into the Obama Administration’s decision to impose a 6-month drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico, focused on whether or not the Department’s 2010 Drilling Moratorium Report was edited to appear as though the moratorium was supported by a panel of engineering experts, when it was not.  

In November 2010, the Inspector General for the Interior Department issued a report confirming that edits by White House officials led to the incorrect implication that the peer reviewers of the report had supported the Administration’s decision to impose the moratorium. The Inspector General was unable, based on its limited investigation, to independently verify witness statements and failed to determine whether the edits were intentionally made.  As a result, the House natural Resources Committee has been seeking documents and answers on the report.  It was only after the threat of a subpoena became real that the Department committed to have witnesses appear voluntarily.  

Administration officials Neal Kemkar, Special Assistant to the Counselor to the Secretary, and Mary Katherine Ishee, Senior Advisory and Deputy Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management appeared before the Committee.  The witnesses testified and answered questions about their roles in assisting with developing, reviewing, and editing the Departmental report, and how the moratorium decision was made without any technical or scientific analysis.  

Click above to view my exchange with Mr. Neal Kemkar, who was involved in the final drafting of the department’s 2010 Drilling Moratorium Report. I asked Mr. Kemkar whether the peer review language in the Departmental report was intentionally misrepresented to justify the economically devastating moratorium decision, and whether or not he felt any responsibility for causing the confusion about the moratorium and whether the peer reviewers supported it.

The Committee is committed to getting answers and will continue to pursue every avenue necessary. That includes additional questioning of Department officials and seeking answers from within the White House itself. The drilling moratorium directly impacted the lives of thousands of individuals in the Gulf of Mexico.