Senators Intro Bill to Give Oil Spill Panel Power of Subpoena

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


A group of 10 Democratic senators introduced legislation on Tuesday that would grant subpoena power to the oil spill commission that President Obama appointed last month. The power of subpoena would allow the panel to force witnesses to testify or produce evidence for the investigation. 

“Subpoena power is absolutely necessary to make sure that all responsible parties provide us with the information and evidence we need in order to prevent an economic and environmental disaster of this magnitude from ever happening again,” said Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), one of the bill’s cosponsors.

John Kerry (D-Mass.), another sponsor of the legislation, said that without subpoena power, “a commission is just window dressing.”

Obama announced the formation of the panel on May 22, appointing former Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and former Republican EPA administrator William K. Reilly as the two co-chairs. The panel is charged with investigating what happened to lead up to the explosion and spill from the Deepwater Horizon, and how to move forward with offshore drilling. Additional members will be added to the panel in the coming weeks. The president, however, cannot grant the commission subpoena power, which would allow it to access crucial information — documents, videos, witnesses and anything else that might be needed for the investigation.

In addition to Kerry and Shaheen, the bill’s sponsors are: Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mark Begich (D-Ark.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

The commission is expected to issue a report on the Deepwater Horizon spill and recommendations for future of offshore drilling to the president by the end of the year. But as of last week, Graham said it still hadn’t talked to BP. Meanwhile, some have criticized Reilly’s ties to the oil industry as possibly affecting his ability to preside over the panel.

UPDATE: The White House issued a statement noting that while the president can’t give the commission subpoena power, he “has committed the full cooperation of the federal government to the Commission and its mandate,” said spokesman Ben LaBolt. “The President looks forward to working with Members of Congress to ensure that the Commission has the tools and resources it needs to get the job done and that nothing slows down the efforts to get the Commission up and running as soon as possible.”

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate