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A Guide To The Many Inquiries Into The BP Oil Spill

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A Guide To The Many Inquiries Into The BP Oil Spill

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A Guide To The Many Inquiries Into The BP Oil Spill

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As early as today, the Justice Department could announce its first legal actions related to BP's oil spill in the Gulf last April. Now the results of several other investigations are also in the pipeline. NPR's Jeff Brady is tracking those probes.

JEFF BRADY: If the alphabet soup of agencies investigating BP's well blowout and spill is confusing to you, it's a headache for the country's chief offshore drilling regulator.

Mr. MICHAEL BROMWICH (Director Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement): I didn't design the world of many investigations but I have to deal with it.

BRADY: Michael Bromwich's agency, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, is conducting its own joint investigation with the Coast Guard. Like all the other investigations, the goal is to learn what caused the tragedy and how similar accidents can be prevented. But each of the investigative groups has weaknesses that leave room for another bureau or commission to come along and argue they also have a role to play.

Take the investigation Bromwich's agency is co-leading. Critics say that since the BOEM regulates the companies involved, it might find self-criticism difficult.

Mr. BROMWICH: People will be able to see from the report whether we are tough on our own people or not. I believe that organizations have the capacity to investigate themselves.

BRADY: Bromwich has had run-ins with the Chemical Safety Board, which is holding the hearing today. He and Transocean - that's the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon rig - have questioned whether the CSB even has jurisdiction when it comes to offshore spills. But Lois Epstein with the Wilderness Society believes the CSB investigation could be valuable because the board has a lot of independence.

Ms. LOIS EPSTEIN (Wilderness Society): Their board members are appointed to five-year terms, so they cross different administrations and a lot of their credibility is based on their reputation and their previous work.

BRADY: The highest-profile investigation is the President's Oil Spill Commission. In private, some oil industry insiders are critical of who's on the commission it's dominated by people who are more concerned about the environment than oil industry profits. But you won't hear those same insiders criticizing the commission openly. Dan Kish, with the free-market Institute for Energy Research, thinks he knows why.

Mr. DAN KISH (Senior VP of Policy, Institute for Energy Research): When a cop pulls you over, you can present your papers and be nice, or you can start swearing at the policeman and wait for the ticket to be issued.

BRADY: Kish also has a theory why so many investigations have popped up after the Deepwater Horizon. The same did not happen after the Space Shuttle Challenger accident in 1986. Kish suspects the difference is that Americans generally support the concept of space exploration.

Mr. KISH: Americans are not united on the idea that domestic exploration for offshore energy is a good thing.

BRADY: So, everybody with an opinion wants to make sure they're heard. Among the opponents of offshore drilling is Jackie Savitz from the environmental group Oceana. While some are fretting about all the various investigations under way, she's not.

Ms. JACKIE SAVITZ (Oceana): In fact, I think if I were brainstorming with the President I could come up with two or three more panels he ought to set up.

BRADY: Specifically, she wants a group to explore how the country could wean itself from offshore drilling. No sign of that, but there are plenty of others working separately to answer the same questions. Between the Departments of Justice, Interior, Homeland Security, the National Academy of Engineering, the Chemical Safety Board, various congressional inquiries and the President's Commission, expect to hear about new reports being released on a regular basis well into this summer.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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