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Project on Government Oversight




House Panel Moves Towards Better Oversight in Wake of Deepwater Horizon Disaster

July 15, 2010 


Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources responded to the Deepwater Horizon disaster by passing a bill to break up the Minerals Management Service (MMS) and institute a number of other reforms to strengthen oversight of the oil and gas industry. The Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act of 2009, H.R. 3534, incorporates several of POGO's recommendations to end the dangerously cozy relationship between the Department of the Interior and the oil and gas industry, and to increase accountability and transparency.

"If there is a small silver lining in the tragic Deepwater Horizon disaster, it's that Congress and Interior are finally implementing long-needed reforms for effective oversight of drilling and protections for taxpayer dollars," Danielle Brian, POGO executive director stated.

"I applaud Chairman Rahall and the Natural Resources Committee for addressing many of the problems at the root of the overly cozy relationship between industry and Interior," Brian stated.

A number of POGO's recommendations were included in the Committee-passed CLEAR Act:

  • Statutorily ending the Royalty-In-Kind (RIK) program, which failed to collect the royalties owed to taxpayers.
  • Breaking up MMS and ending the conflict of mission at Interior by statutorily establishing three separate bureaus focused on leasing, auditing, and inspections.
  • Ensuring taxpayers get their fair share of royalties by restoring and strengthening the auditing of royalty payments, reviewing royalty rates, establishing appropriate bid-minimums, and increasing the penalties.
  • Slowing the revolving door between industry and Interior by extending the application of current revolving door rules beyond the highest paid employees at Interior, expanding the lobbying ban to two years, and adding teeth to the restrictions with civil and criminal penalties.
  • Tackling conflicts of interests by adding penalties to the gift ban and expanding the financial interests disallowed.
  • Building expertise and training for inspectors and other regulators by requiring the Secretary of the Interior to establish training academies.
  • Improving transparency by requiring information relevant to inspections, failures, or accidents involving equipment and systems to be publicly available, creating a public electronic database on leases, and publishing online information relating to oil and gas chemical use for drilling or completing the well.

POGO hopes that Chairman Rahall will work with Reps. Miller (D-CA), Inslee (D-WA), Markey (D-MA), Sarbanes (D-MD), and Grijalva (D-AZ) to incorporate some of the strengthening amendments they offered. For example, Rep. Miller offered an amendment to allow for more collaboration between Interior and the Department of Labor on training and safety issues, which he withdrew, saying the Chair had agreed to work with him to incorporate it in the version of the bill to be offered on the House Floor. Rep. Miller also withdrew his amendment to provide whistleblower protections to offshore oil and gas workers after Chairman Rahall indicated he would object to it as being under the jurisdiction of another committee—not surprisingly, the committee chaired by Rep. Miller, Education and Labor. 

POGO strongly supports additional whistleblower protections, viewing them as essential to guarding against future disasters, waste, fraud, and abuse, and protecting the environment and public safety.

In addition, POGO hopes that final legislation will reduce conflicts of interest created by the bill by removing the oil and gas industry from agreements with Interior to train regulators and providing for more transparency in the training programs.

"Institutionalizing the training of regulators by the oil and gas industry is a recipe for another disaster, and this needs to be addressed," stated Brian.

POGO also supports the creation of a Regional Citizen's Advisory Council, and other measures released in our recommendations for improving the CLEAR Act.

Danielle Brian will be addressing these reforms and other changes needed when she testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform committee on July 22.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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