Center for American Progress Action

BREAKING: Obama to Establish Presidential Commission to Investigate Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico
Press Release

BREAKING: Obama to Establish Presidential Commission to Investigate Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico

On May 4, Daniel J. Weiss, CAP’s Director of Climate Strategy wrote, “We need an independent commission to investigate the BP disaster.  Now Weiss reports that the White House is doing just that.  As hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil continue to gush from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico four weeks after the tragic BP disaster, AP reports that

President Barack Obama will establish the commission by executive order. It will be similar to panels created to investigate the space shuttle Challenger disaster and the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a public announcement.

The New York Times reports

The president will create the panel by executive order “in coming days,” a White House official said. “The commission will take into account the investigations underway concerning the causes of the spill and explore a range of issues including: industry practices; rig safety; Federal, state, and local regulatory regimes; federal governmental oversight, including the structure and functions of M.M.S.; and environmental review and other protections,” the official said, requesting anonymity to discuss the matter in advance of the presidential announcement.

An hour ago White House sources indicated to CAP that an official announcement about this executive order could occur on Tuesday or Wednesday.

In addition to the horrible loss of eleven lives on the now sunken Deepwater Horizon oil rig, the BP oil disaster could be the most devastating environmental disaster to ever befall the United States.  To understand what caused this oil nightmare, in early May CAP proposed that President Obama appoint appoint “an independent commission to completely examine the causes of the BP disaster and offer guidance for how we can make sure it never happens again.

This would enable investigators to conduct an independent assessment of the causes of the disaster, and determine the responsibilities born by BP, Transocean, and Halliburton. An independent inquiry would also be able to determine whether the Minerals Management Service of the Department of Interior fulfilled its oversight duties.

Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA), introduced the “BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Inquiry Commission Act of 2010,” H.R. 5241.  Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have a companion proposal.  These measures would create a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the BP oil disaster.

Rather than wait for legislation, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan used executive orders to create independent commissions to investigate the near nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island nuclear plant and the Challenger Space Shuttle accident.  The orders were signed two and one week after these events, respectively, and the panels completed their work six months and three months after the events.

These were discrete incidents, while the BP oil disaster is an ongoing event so it may take longer to investigate and draw conclusions about the causes and damages.  By using an executive order, President Obama can get this inquiry started much more quickly than by waiting for Congress to pass legislation.  This will enable investigators to question witnesses while their memories are still fresh, and promptly order BP, Transocean, and Halliburton to preserve all relevant communications and documents.