The House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday devoted two and a half hours to grilling Interior Department officials over a two-year-old report that led to a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the aftermath of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The hearing was the apex of an ongoing political battle between the committee and the Interior Department over the report, which House Republicans have claimed gave the impression that the drilling freeze was supported by an independent panel of engineers, when it was not. An investigation by Interior's inspector general concluded, however, that the administration did not intentionally misrepresent the report.
After months of wrangling by Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., to obtain testimony from Interior officials on the issue, Republicans on the panel finally got their chance on Thursday when the department sent Neal Kemkar, special assistant to the Interior secretary's counsel, and Mary Katherine Ishee, who was deputy director for the former Minerals Management Service when the moratorium report was issued in 2010. The result was largely political theater.
GOP committee members grilled Kemkar and Inshee on the meanings of words used in e-mails exchanged among Interior officials, on the intent of the administration in imposing the six-month moratorium, and even suggested that the two witnesses be held in contempt of Congress for not providing documents they said they did not have authority to release. Democrats, meanwhile, repeatedly questioned the point of having the hearing in the first place, argued that the committee should be holding hearings on the spill itself, and called for points of order that disrupted the hearing.