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Yesterday the White House took a firm stand against an effort to undermine the 40-year-old Clean Air Act, reverse a Supreme Court decision, and block the federal fuel efficiency standards that were finalized this past spring, which will reduce the nation's consumption of oil by at least 455 million barrels.
 

Exposed by the Gulf oil spill disaster as a conflict-ridden friend of oil companies it was supposed to regulate, the federal Minerals Management Service died today—dismantled by Interior Sec. Ken Salazar, who's obviously feeling the heat of eight congressional hearings and an angry president.

The three companies responsible for the spill in the Gulf of Mexico—British Petroleum, Transocean and Halliburton—appeared in the second panel of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. They'll also appear this afternoon before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, making it a long day under the congressional microscope for these companies.

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.

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