Hill panel ratch­ets up fight over doc­u­ments

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

House Repub­li­cans voted Wed­nes­day to au­tho­rize con­gres­sional sub­poe­nas de­mand­ing that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion turn over doc­u­ments it has re­fused to pro­vide in two in­ves­ti­ga­tions, in­clud­ing one look­ing at the post-gulf of Mex­ico drilling mora­to­rium.

The 23-17 vote in the Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee es­ca­lated yet an­other show­down be­tween the ad­min­is­tra­tion and House Repub­li­cans, who have flexed their in­ves­tiga­tive pow­ers on ev­ery­thing rang­ing from im­mi­gra­tion to gun­run­ning to land use.

In the mora­to­rium case, the com­mit­tee is try­ing to fig­ure out whether pol­i­tics were be­hind ed­its the In­te­rior Depart­ment made to its six-month Gulf drilling ban re­port, which sug­gested its own panel of ex­perts agreed with the mora­to­rium, even though the engineers ac­tu­ally op­posed that decision.

The other sub­poe­nas seek doc­u­ments on whether the ad­min­is­tra­tion is fol­low­ing the rules as it tries to re­write coal-pro­duc­tion reg­u­la­tions.

“It is un­for­tu­nate that we have reached this point to­day, but the [In­te­rior] Depart­ment has left us with no other choice,” said com­mit­tee Chair­man Doc Hast­ings, Washington Re­pub­li­can, who pointed to Pres­i­dent Obama’s pledge of trans­parency. “The ad­min­is­tra­tion is not only fail­ing to up­hold this prom­ise, but is ac­tively pre­vent­ing Congress from car­ry­ing out its over­sight au­thor­ity.”

The vote gives Mr. Hast­ings au­thor­ity to is­sue the sub­poe­nas at any time. An aide said Repub­li­cans hope the vote prompts the ad­min­is­tra­tion to turn over the doc­u­ments they are seek­ing, but said Mr. Hast­ings is pre­pared to act in short or­der.

Rep. Ed­ward J. Markey of Mas­sachusetts, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the com­mit­tee, said that the in­ves­ti­ga­tions “seem to be more about ha­rass­ing and ty­ing up the ad­min­is­tra­tion” than try­ing to an­swer im­por­tant ques­tions.

Democrats said the ad­min­is­tra­tion has al­ready turned over 13,000 pages of doc­u­ments in the coal-pro­duc­tion rules in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and 1,000 pages in the off­shore-drilling mora­to­rium. Mr. Markey said some of the other doc­u­ments Repub­li­cans are seek­ing have al­ready been re­viewed by their in­ves­ti­ga­tors in pri­vate.

”Your staff know what these doc­u­ments say, which means they also know these doc­u­ments say noth­ing of im­port,” Mr. Markey said.

He also said Repub­li­cans them­selves are keep­ing doc­u­ments from the Democrats on the com­mit­tee, and asked that they be made public in ac­cor­dance with the Re­pub­li­can de­mands for trans­parency.

Mr. Hast­ings said that “the judg­ment will be made at the end of the process” which side was more trans­par­ent: House Repub­li­cans or the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The oil mora­to­rium has dogged the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ken­neth L. Salazar’s re­port ac­com­pa­ny­ing the July 2010 mora­to­rium seemed to im­ply that the panel of engineers he had asked to re­view the mora­to­rium con­curred with the decision, though most of the engineers ac­tu­ally dis­agreed.

Af­ter the engineers protested, the White House at the time ac­knowl­edged it had dis­re­garded their sci­en­tific con­clu­sions in fa­vor of a “pol­icy” decision — which the ad­min­is­tra­tion has the au­thor­ity to do.

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