Rep. Hastings raises serious questions about inspector general's probe of drilling moratorium

05 11, 2012 by The Times-Picayune

A House committee chairman Thursday expressed dissatisfaction with an inspector general's investigation that found no evidence the Obama administration intentionally edited a report to suggest outside experts endorsed a moratorium on deep-water drilling following the 2010 BP oil spill. The experts hadn't been consulted about the moratorium.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., Thursday wrote acting Interior Department Inspector General Mary Kendall saying the documents obtained by the panel raise "serious questions about the thoroughness and independence of the Inspector General's investigation." Hastings cited some emails obtained by the committee from Richard Larrabee, a lead investigator for the inspector general.

Larrabee said in the emails that he wasn't able to get access to all the material he needed to conduct the probe and wasn't permitted to ask a White House official involving in the late night editing of the report recommending the moratorium.

His emails were first reported in the Times-Picayune Tuesday.

Larrabee said he suspected the Interior Department report was intentionally edited to suggest support of outside experts, though he conceded he didn't have evidence to back up his viewpoint.

At issue was a report the Interior Department released about a month into the BP spill, suggesting a series of new regulatory steps to improve drilling safety and a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling while the new rules were put in place. The regulatory protocol had been peer reviewed by a panel of outside experts, but not the decision to impose a moratorium.

According to the Interior Department, a last-minute editing of the report by a White House official moved a graph about the moratorium into the executive summary where the regulatory changes were summarized, leaving an impression the experts agreed with the drilling stoppage. After the report was released, some of the experts complained to say that the report misrepresented their views on the moratorium and the report was quickly corrected.

There are strong questions, Hastings said Thursday, "whether the lead investigators were able to obtain or were directed not to obtain all internal department documents necessary to independently confirm witness statements and other facts at issue in the investigation, as opposed to only a select few documents provided by the same senior department officials subject to the investigation or publicly available documents."

Kendall's office earlier this week said it stands behind the office's investigation that found no evidence Interior or White House officials had intentionally sought to mislead the public about the views of the outside experts on the moratorium.

On Wednesday, the lead Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said his staff reviewed documents related to the Interior Report and also concluded the mistake was not intentional. A Markey staffer said it amounted to a "copy editing mistake."

Markey called the GOP-led probe a waste of time. But Hastings said the moratorium cost jobs and the editing of the report deserves the serious attention of his panel.