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Gulf oil spill: Interior secretary, other officials to be questioned by Congress

May 16, 2010 | 12:11 pm

Kensalazar A week after grilling executives of the companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Congress this week turns its attention to the federal agency charged with overseeing offshore drilling. 

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is due to appear at back-to-back Senate hearings Tuesday, first before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and then before the Environment and Public Works Committee, as lawmakers step up their investigation of the spill.

Salazar and other administration officials will report on efforts to stop the leak, estimated at 210,000 gallons per day, and arrest the spread of spilled oil. A number of lawmakers also are eager to grill Salazar and others about the activities of the Minerals Management Service, the agency in the Interior Department charged with enforcing safety and environmental rules for offshore energy exploration.

"It is critically important to hear the administration's point of view and to get their take on what safety lapses occurred and if any regulatory breakdowns happened at the Minerals Management Service that may have contributed to this terrible accident,'' Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) said last week during a hearing by the House Energy and Commerce's oversight and investigations panel.

Salazar has moved to split the Minerals Management Service into two agencies – one to oversee leasing of federal lands and waters for energy exploration and to collect royalties for the U.S. Treasury and the other to inspect drilling operations and enforce safety and environmental regulations.

BP America Chairman and President Lamar McKay will be back on Capitol Hill on Monday and Tuesday.

He will appear Monday, along with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. McKay will testify Tuesday before the Senate Commerce Committee, along with Steven Newman, president and chief executive of drilling-rig operator Transocean; and the U.S. Coast Guard commandant, Adm. Thad W. Allen.

-- Richard Simon, reporting from Washington

Photo:  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Credit: Evan Vucci / Associated Press

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