Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, ranking member on the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, today called on the White House to release unredacted versions of documents handed over late last year in response to his Nov. 30 request for information about the federal response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Dec. 3 response from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), housed at the Department of Commerce (DOC), included heavily blacked-out portions of conversations between government officials, in some cases extending to entire pages.
Grijalva sent a letter with several attachments, including samples of redacted documents, to President Obama Jan. 25 outlining several concerns raised by the executive branch’s handling of his request, including e-mails from federal scientists mentioning “strong pushback” from the White House on how certain aspects of the federal response would be presented to the public. Grijalva wrote in the letter: “While I hesitate to offer a definitive scientific opinion on any of these issues, I am concerned that the draft and review process led to an oversimplification of the complexities of spill response for the sake of public relations.”
The extent of the redactions included in the response is “unjustifiable,” Grijalva wrote in the letter. He also raised concerns about DOC officials’ refusal to work with his staff during the course of his inquiry, requesting from the president “an explanation of why my staff was repeatedly rebuffed by Commerce and why Commerce officials refused to deal with” staff personnel.
“My concern is just as much about transparency and open government as about the conclusions federal experts reached about the spill,” Grijalva said. “Congress is not only empowered but obligated to conduct oversight and protect the public interest, and any refusal to acknowledge Congress’ role concerns me.”
At a Jan. 26 hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee, Grijalva raised questions about whether Congress will provide adequate federal funding for safety and environmental oversight of the industry in the wake of the Horizon spill. He asked Bob Graham and William Reilly, co-chairs of the presidential commission that investigated the oil spill and released its report Jan. 11, whether extensive drilling should resume before federal regulations and staff are adequate to protect the public interest (video available here and at http://www.youtube.com/user/raulgrijalvaaz07).
“I don’t think it’s in the interest of the American people not to have adequate standards,” Graham said. “We’ve just seen what the consequences are to a lot of very innocent people.”
Grijalva quoted the commission’s findings in his Jan. 25 letter:
The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again. Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur. The missteps were rooted in systemic failures by industry management (extending beyond BP to contractors that serve many in the industry), and also by failures of government to provide effective regulatory oversight of offshore drilling.
More information and a timeline of public correspondence on the issue is available at http://grijalva.house.gov/oversight