Issa Feigns Sympathy for Oil Spill’s Victims

Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is using the one-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster as an opportunity to criticize the Obama administration for exercising more caution when issuing offshore drilling permits. After the spill, “the Administration’s subsequent assault on off-shore drilling has [damaged] economically vulnerable communities,” Issa says.

Issa’s sympathy would be touching if it weren’t so obviously contrived. (Issa’s committee has held at least 40 hearings this year, none on the spill.) If Issa were so concerned with the economic well-being of the Gulf region, he would be interested in preventing future spills. As a new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows, lax regulation in the drilling arena led to the oil spill, which continues to wreak havoc on Gulf businesses.

Issa said yesterday, “The legacy of this spill should be an increased emphasis on safety, not a full-scale retreat from off-shore energy production.” Of course, Issa has no real interest in an “increased emphasis on safety.” In fact, Issa’s role in the Republican attack on regulation is undermining the future safety of drilling.

For example, in December, when Issa wrote to businesses and industry lobbyists asking them for a hit list of regulations they want to see undone, one of the companies in his address book was ConocoPhillips. The energy giant wrote back to Issa to complain about new safety standards for offshore drilling (meant to protect both the environment and workers) set in the wake of the BP spill.

The Interior Department announced yesterday that it would be pursuing even more safety standards for oil rigs. During the announcement, Interior official Michael Bromwich also dispensed with the notion that the administration’s moratorium on Gulf drilling is somehow responsible for severe economic distress. From BNA news (subscription):

Deepwater drilling was banned by the Obama administration immediately after the BP oil spill. The moratorium was lifted in October, but Interior did not grant the first deepwater permit until Feb. 28. Since then, 11 other deepwater permits have been issued.

The agency has issued 49 drilling permits for new wells in shallow water since last summer, Bromwich said. While the pace is slightly below historical levels, there is no big backlog of pending permit applications for shallow-water drilling, as some critics have suggested, he added. 

If anything, Bromwich’s comments indicate that the Obama administration continues to play fast and loose with drilling safety. Interior has issued 12 deepwater permits even though – as evidenced by the announcement that more safety regulations are needed and under development – the administration is not fully confident that existing safeguards are sufficient to prevent another catastrophe.

The lesson may be that, one-year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history, neither Issa and his congressional colleagues nor the Obama administration are in the right place on deepwater drilling. Those who fail to learn from history…

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