- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A House committee issued subpoenas Tuesday demanding that the Obama administration turn over documents Republicans say will show the backroom negotiations that led to President Obama’s Gulf of Mexico drilling moratorium in 2010.

Interior Secretary Kenneth L. Salazar, whose department is the target of the subpoenas, rejected them as “a distraction in the name of politics” — and Republicans fired back that Mr. Salazar was showing little compassion over the jobs lost during the moratorium.

The subpoenas come as Mr. Obama is fighting to show he’s been proactive in leasing federal lands for energy development. Also on Tuesday, Mr. Salazar announced a new program to streamline the computer system that tracks energy-exploration permits, which officials said could reduce wait times by as much as two-thirds.

Republicans dismiss it as a computer fix, not a decision that will bring more energy online.

They urged Mr. Salazar to comply with their subpoenas, saying they need to learn more about the negotiations that led to the six-month drilling moratorium that followed the BP oil spill and about the editing of a report that accompanied the drilling ban.

That report seemed to imply that a panel of engineers the administration had consulted had agreed with the drilling ban — though the engineers actually opposed the moratorium.

“The report falsely stated the professional views of independent engineers and the moratorium directly caused thousands of lost jobs, economic pain throughout the Gulf region, and a decline in American energy production,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, Washington Republican and Natural Resources Committee chairman. “It’s important to clearly understand exactly how this happened.”

Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for the Interior Department, said it has made efforts to comply with the committee but said some of the requests would impinge on the executive branch’s ability to deliberate and make decisions.

Mr. Fetcher also said the committee should be focusing on what went right in the aftermath of the spill from Mr. Salazar’s demands for stricter safety standards to the fact that there are more rigs drilling in the Gulf now than at any time since just after the spill.

“This investigation continues to spend taxpayer resources to re-litigate an issue that was resolved two years ago, and that has thoroughly been reviewed by the department’s Inspector General,” Mr. Fetcher said. “The American people would be best served by passage of the legislative changes we’ve recommended to further enhance offshore oil and gas enforcement and safety.”

The House committee voted 23-17 last week to give Mr. Hastings authority to issue the subpoenas, despite Democrats’ objections that the move was political.

Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said Mr. Hastings didn’t give the panel’s Democrats a chance to look over the subpoenas beforehand [-] despite Mr. Hastings’ indication at the committee meeting last week that he would try to do so.

Mr. Markey also accused Mr. Hastings of withholding other investigative documents from Democrats in violation of House rules.

The oil moratorium has dogged the Obama administration.

After the engineers spoke out in the wake of the report’s release, Mr. Salazar apologized and had the report corrected.

The White House at the time acknowledged it had disregarded their scientific conclusions in favor of a “policy” decision, a move that the administration has the authority to do but which Republicans say Mr. Obama vowed during the 2008 campaign not to do.

The latest oil-production numbers from 2011 showed a drop on federal lands, which analysts said was attributable chiefly to the drilling moratorium.

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