Lawmakers Grill Salazar Over Oil Drilling
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. For the first time since a massive undersea blowout began spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the secretary of the Interior testified before a Senate committee today on what went wrong.
Ken Salazar has several roles in the current crisis. His department includes the government agency that's supposed to inspect and regulate oil-drilling operations, the Minerals Management Service. He's also heavily involved in the ongoing attempts to contain the spill and to gauge its impact.
NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.
ANDREA SEABROOK: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told senators today that he and his agency have been riding herd on BP, which operated the drilling rig. The day after the explosion on Deepwater Horizon, he sent his deputy to the operations site without a change of underwear or a toothbrush, he said. Since then, the government has mobilized a massive response operation that includes an army of more than 17,000 workers and an armada of some 750 vessels in the Gulf.
But the picture he painted was not so valorous when it came to government oversight before the catastrophic accident.
Secretary KEN SALAZAR (Department of Interior): That responsibility, I will say, starts first with the Department of Interior and the Minerals Management Service. We need to clean up that house in the days ahead. There will be additional announcements that I will make as secretary of Interior concerning the reorganization of the Minerals Management Service.
SEABROOK: And Salazar said Congress must help him overhaul the MMS.
Sec. SALAZAR: An agency the size of the Minerals Management Service that has these responsibilities for the Outer Continental Shelf in terms of the energy production and future of the United States of America should not exist by fiat of a secretarial order that was signed almost 30 years ago.
SEABROOK: Salazar also announced that President Obama will appoint a commission to investigate the disaster, one modeled on the government responses to the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown in 1979 and the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. Both commissions led to strict new safety standards.
During the question-and-answer part of Salazar's testimony, you could see the politics of the current disaster unfold. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said one lesson of the Gulf oil spill should be that offshore drilling is so difficult and risky that perhaps officials should be looking elsewhere.
Senator LISA MURKOWSKI (Republican, Alaska): We have an opportunity up north in Alaska onshore with ANWR, where we have the potential of about 16 billion barrels of oil.
SEABROOK: ANWR is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Salazar dispensed with Murkowski's argument rather quickly.
Sec. SALAZAR: The president has been clear, and I have been clear, that we will not drill in ANWR.
SEABROOK: On the other side, Vermont independent Bernie Sanders said the risks of offshore drilling might make it not worth doing at all, especially off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Senator BERNIE SANDERS (Independent, Vermont): Can you give me an answer to the question: Is it worth the risk?
Sec. SALAZAR: Senator Sanders, the reality of it is that we will be depending on oil and gas as we transition to a new energy future. You are not going to turn off the lights of this country or the economy by shutting it all down.
SEABROOK: But in Salazar's words, he has hit the pause button on all future offshore oil leases while officials figure out how to go forward. The U.S. is not going to stop drilling for oil, he said, but before it can move forward, there must be a full accounting of this catastrophic accident and new oversight and safety regulations in place.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, The Capitol.
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