OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Issa aims at Obama oil-spill response

Thursday’s big story: House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) will convene a hearing on recovery from the BP oil spill. It's a hearing slated to include attacks on the White House’s performance.

Issa issued a statement ahead of the hearing that targets the administration’s response to the accident, which dealt a major blow to the Gulf Coast economy. “At times, the administration actively hindered the efforts of local officials and others with expertise in protecting the region’s fragile ecosystem,” Issa said.

He alleged the administration, during the spill response, appeared more worried about its media profile than protecting the jobs of Gulf Coast residents.

Witnesses at the hearing include Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), parish and county officials from Florida and Louisiana, and others.

The Obama administration has strongly defended its response to the BP spill and the economic dislocations it caused.

The White House pressed BP to set up an independent $20 billion compensation fund for spill victims, and also established a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force to guide long-term restoration, among other efforts.

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President Obama, in marking the one-year anniversary of the spill, noted that at the height of the spill response, roughly 48,000 responders combated the spill. “Nearly 2,000 responders are actively working in the Gulf to aid in the ongoing recovery efforts,” he said April 20.

Issa, Bromwich to square off: Michael Bromwich, who heads the Interior Department’s offshore drilling branch, is also slated to appear at the hearing.

Issa and other Republicans say Interior is slow-walking Gulf of Mexico deepwater drilling permits even though the formal moratorium was lifted last year. They have also complained about the pace of shallow-water permits.

The committee chairman’s statement ahead of the hearing alleges the administration’s policy has led to a “paralyzing loss of jobs in an already weak economy.”

But Bromwich — who directs the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement — said deepwater drilling permits did not start flowing again until late February because oil companies had not yet demonstrated their ability to contain blowouts.

Bromwich, in an exclusive interview with The Hill last month, more broadly rebuffed claims that he has an anti-drilling agenda. “What could my possible personal or political motive for that be? Am I going to get a gold watch if I shut down the industry?” he said. “I don’t think so.”


NEWS BITES:

At White House meeting, Scalise presses Obama on drilling: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) used a White House meeting between President Obama and the House GOP Caucus Wednesday to pressure Obama to streamline the permitting process for offshore Gulf of Mexico drilling.

“I asked him about the problems people are having permits so they can go back to work drilling safely, and specifically I asked him about the need to clarify the policies that the Department of Interior has refused to address,” Scalise told The Hill Wednesday in the Capitol after the meeting, which focused on finding common ground on deficit reduction.

“The president committed to me that he would work with me to address the problem,” Scalise continued. “We’re going to give him that opportunity and we have a lot of specific that need to be addressed.”

But the Republican lawmakers did not discuss the issue of repealing billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks, which 20 Senate Democrats said Tuesday should be a part of any deficit-reduction package.

“That didn’t come up and the president surely didn’t bring it up,” Scalise said.

McConnell blasts EPA in speech to coal industry: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) delivered a spirited speech to the Kentucky Coal Association Wednesday.

Some highlights:

— "I'm not sure if you followed this, but Congress extended the Patriot Act last week that provides monitoring tools for the administration to fight terrorism. I only mention that because I’ve heard EPA is interpreting the legislation to mean they can eavesdrop on any room with three or more energy providers to ensure nobody is doing any business. So watch what you say and please make sure to wipe your shoes off at the door. If anyone tracked any dust in here they’ll bust in and shut the place down."

— "People in Washington are always looking for alternatives to coal. What they don’t seem to realize, as my friend David Williams has said, is that the alternative to coal … is darkness."

— "Of course the EPA’s real goal here is not to see the Kentucky coal industry comply with its boatload of regulations and red tape. It is to see the Kentucky coal industry driven out of business altogether."

— "If we don’t have coal and we don’t have oil and we don’t have gas, what do they expect us to do? Attach sails to our cars and wait for the wind?"

Waxman slams E&C Republicans ... again: Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is not a happy camper these days.

His office sent out the latest in a string of letters to Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee complaining about the way the GOP runs the panel.

This time, Waxman says, Democrats were not consulted when Republicans conducted interviews with staffers at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Here’s the chain of events, via Waxman’s letter:

“On Friday, Democratic Committee staff discovered that your staff had conducted interviews of at least four employees of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission without notifying the Democratic members or staff of the Committee. We also learned that an additional Committee interview was planned over the Memorial Day weekend. Minority staff immediately asked your staff for information about the interviews that had already occurred and asked to participate in the witness interview scheduled over the weekend. Your staff did not respond until Tuesday and has yet to agree to include the minority in future Committee interviews.”

Neglecting to include the minority in such interviews is against committee precedent, Waxman said.

“Excluding Democratic staff from Committee interviews of fact witnesses is inappropriate and inconsistent with Committee precedents,” Waxman said. “The practice denies nearly half the members of the Committee equal access to relevant information about the investigation. It wastes taxpayer resources by necessitating duplicative interviews. And it calls into question the basic fairness and credibility of the Committee’s inquiry.”

The letter comes a day after Waxman blasted Republicans in another letter, arguing that a subcommittee of the panel violated committee policy in reporting a bill last week that would require economic analysis of Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Sneak peak: An interview with Roberty F. Kennedy Jr.: The Hill scored an interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., on his efforts to stop mountaintop-removal mining. Kennedy appears in the new documentary “The Last Mountain."

While the interview won't run until Thursday morning, OVERNIGHT ENERGY can give you this tidbit: Kennedy tells The Hill he wants West Virginia Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D) and Joe Manchin (D) to see the upcoming documentary because they need an education in the effects of mountaintop removal mining.

"Generally speaking, I think that they spout the industry talking points — we need the jobs, we need the revenue — and they don’t really want to listen to the facts, that this is costing the state in revenue, that the mining is costing jobs," Kennedy said.


ON TAP THURSDAY:

House Energy panel marks up drilling, reg review bills: The House Energy and Commerce Committee will mark up a pair of bills that GOP leaders plan to bring to the floor this summer.

One would mandate a new interagency review of the economic effects of certain EPA rules; the other seeks to streamline air pollution permitting for drilling projects off Alaska’s coast and ease air pollution standards.

More on those bills here.

House Natural Resources Committee to review Alaskan oil: A committee panel will hold a hearing titled “Domestic Oil and Natural Gas: Alaskan Resources, Access and Infrastructure.” It will include the head of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources and a senior official with Shell Oil, which has for years been seeking federal permission to begin drilling off Alaska’s coast.

House panel to review energy and water spending bill
: The House Appropriations Committee panel that oversees Energy Department spending will mark up fiscal year 2012 spending legislation that would cut the department’s funding and block the White House’s decision to scrap the planned Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

More on the spending bill here and here.

Bipartisan group to push ‘open fuel’ bill: A bipartisan group of House members including Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.) will hold a press conference to tout their bill that would create an “open fuel standard.”

“The OFS would require that 50 percent of new automobiles in 2014, 80 percent in 2016, and 95 percent in 2017, would be warranted to operate on nonpetroleum fuels in addition to or instead of petroleum based fuels,” an advisory states.

House Foreign Affairs panel turns spotlight to energy: A subcommittee will hold a hearing on "European and Eurasian Energy: Developing Capabilities for Security and Prosperity." Witnesses will include the State Department's special envoy for Eurasian energy, Richard Morningstar.

Energy Department ‘fracking’ panel rolls on: Thursday brings Day 2 of an Energy Department advisory panel’s review of the controversial natural-gas production method called hydraulic fracturing. The panel will meet with state regulators.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…


— Sanders: Obama lacks ‘urgency’ on oil speculation

— Dem blasts cuts in 2012 energy, water appropriations bill

— GOP freshman rejects invitation to White House, citing drilling concerns

— Vitter lifts hold on key Interior nominee

— Oil industry: EPA's reg review plan doesn't go far enough

— Salazar: Interior will not enforce 'wild lands' policy

— State Department defends oil sands pipeline review 


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