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Jared Saylor's blog

The first panel of witnesses were effusive in their answers as the majority of questions targeted Minerals Management Service representative Elmer Danenberger. Although Danenberger retired in January after 38 years at MMS, he faced strong questions from senators asking why MMS seemed so inept on the permit that resulted in the catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Was it appropriate that MMS is both advocate and regulator of the oil and gas industry? Danenberger replied: "That concept might merit further attention."

Many senators seemed unhappy with the responses from the first panel, and made their disdain known. Sen. James E. Risch (R-ID) took the opportunity to toss a jibe at those organizing the first Earth Day, blaming them for stopping development of nuclear power and thus increasing our reliance on fossil fuels, but he did note that he was "less than satisfied" with the answers he recieved.

On a separate note, Interior Sec. Ken Salazar will announce today plans to split MMS into two parts, as reported by the Washington Post: one with oversight responsibilities for the oil indsutry and another that would provide drilling leases and collect federal royalties on the operations. The move could address what some senators questioned as MMS' relationship as both advocate and regulator.

The first two witnesses on the panel, Dr. F.E. Beck, associate professor at Texas A&M University and Mr. Danenberger, former chief of the offshore regulatory division at the Minerals Management Service (MMS), opened up the hearing as Sens. Bingaman and Murkowski asked mainly technical questions.

Danenberger spent much of his time promoting the great virtues of MMS, but of course, failed to mention that "MMS granted a categorical exclusion and failed to require a thorough environmental review before allowing BP to proceed with this exploration well," as Earthjustice legislative associate Jessica Ennis noted in a press statement on today's hearings.

Even as Congress is asking questions, MMS and President Obama's Department of Interior are moving full steam ahead with offshore drilling in America's Arctic Ocean with a drill rig similar to the one that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Senators continue to question the first panel of experts, and more than a few of them have suggested they're much more excited to grill the second panel of witnesses, which includes representatives from BP, Transocean Limited and Halliburton.

Earthjustice is blogging live from congressional hearings starting today on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. This is the second report.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) offered brief remarks on today's hearing that were critical not only of the companies responsible for the spill but also of the regulators who failed to stop this catastrophe. He said today's hearing is the "first of many hearings" and noted that Interior Sec. Ken Salazar (who was originally scheduled to testify at the ENR committee last week) will be testifying next week before the ENR committee.

Bingaman also said that the goal of today's hearing is to gather "a thorough, factual record" of what happened before, during and after the spill. "It's not enough to chalk what happened to a view that accidents will happen," Bingaman added. "We'll likely discover there was a cascade of failures and technical and regulatory errors."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the ranking minority member on the committee, recognized the tragic nature of this spill, but put her own "drill, baby, drill" spin on future oil drilling efforts, noting that "accidents remain a cold reality" of energy development. Surprisingly, she also said, "We need to steadily minimize production of oil in our energy mix," but then added that "under anyone's figures it's going to be a long time before we competely ween ourselves off our oil addiction."

The first panel is now offering opening statements, and the companies responsible for the spill will testify in the second panel. Bingaman is hoping to wrap up the hearing before lunch, so stay tuned for more updates.

Earthjustice is blogging live from congressional hearings starting today on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. This is the first report.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be the first committee to hold a hearing looking into the causes and cleanups of one of the biggest environmental disasters in the last two decades. Just a few hours later, the witnesses in the ENR committee will walk down the hall to appear before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

It's a chilly spring day here in D.C., but we certainly expect some fireworks to come from these two hearings. Appearing before each committee are representatives from BP, Halliburton and Transocean Limited. I'll be blogging about the hearings as all the excitement occurs, so stay tuned throughout the morning for updates.

The witnesses for each hearing include:

Mr. Lamar McKay, President and Chairman, BP America, Inc.; Mr. Steven Newman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Transocean Limited; Mr. Tim Probert, President, Global Business Lines; Chief Health, Safety and Environmental Officer, Halliburton.

It's been a long time coming, but they're finally here: the EPA announced today plans to set the first ever federal safeguards for coal ash, one of America's most dangerous wastes. But what they really did was announce two plans: one good and one bad. The agency will accept public comment on both plans and then decide which to pursue.

The latest news reports suggest the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that sunk earlier this month is much worse than anticipated. The oil slick, which is now the size of West Virginia and getting bigger by the day, could hit Louisiana's coastline by this weekend. Experts say the oil continues to leak at a rate of about 5,000 barrels per day, more than five times original estimates.

When the EPA said on its website that April was going to be the month when we'd see the first ever federal coal ash regulations, environmental groups were in support. Sure, it would be four months later than what the EPA originally promised when a billion gallons of coal ash spilled across 300 acres in Tennessee, but we remained optimistic.

Now the month is half over and still no coal ash regulations. So, we're taking our fight up the ladder.

Today, the Obama administration sent a mixed signal on offshore oil drilling, a move guaranteed to raise concerns from native groups, environmentalists, and communities living near some of the most sensitive and biologically diverse coastal areas. Obama and Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a plan to halt oil and gas leasing in Bristol Bay off Alaska's southwestern coast and to postpone future lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, off Alaska's northern coast, while needed missing information is gathered.

The New York Times today reported in the next chapter of their exceptional "Toxic Waters" series that:

"Thousands of the nation's largest water polluters are outside the Clean Water Act's reach because the Supreme Court has left uncertain which waterways are protected by that law, according to interviews with regulators.

"As a result, some businesses are declaring that the law no longer applpies to them. And pollution rates are rising."

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About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.