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Gulf oil spill: Salazar defends renewed drilling moratorium [updated]

June 23, 2010 |  1:41 pm

Salazar
Debate continued in Congress on Wednesday over Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s effort to reinstitute a deep-water drilling moratorium a day after it was struck down by a federal judge.

"There are very powerful interests that want to proceed at all costs, and I don't think we should," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate interior appropriations subcommittee, told Salazar during a hearing on his reorganization of the agency that oversees offshore drilling.

"The last 64 days have clearly demonstrated that the technology in use for deep-water drilling is not sufficient to prevent or stop environmental disasters," Feinstein said.

But Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) implored Salazar to "make sure that the economic consequences of a moratorium aren't more damaging than the environmental consequences of the oil spill." And Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) called the judge’s Tuesday decision "pretty scathing."

Salazar, who plans to appeal the judge's ruling, responded that the moratorium was the "correct decision."

"It is important that this moratorium stay in place until we can assure that deep-water drilling can be done in a safe way," he told the committee.

[update 2:25 p.m.: Salazar told the Senate committee that he will be taking a look at how the moratorium ``might be refined.’’ 

``It might be that there are demarcations that can be made based on reservoirs where we actually do know the pressures and the risks associated with that versus those reservoirs which are exploratory in nature,’’ he said.]

Salazar also said that while he believes there was "reckless conduct" leading up the April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, the investigation will weigh heavily on the recovery of a "critical piece of evidence from the bottom of the ocean" -- the blowout preventer -- that cannot be examined until the leak is plugged.

Meanwhile, the new director of the federal agency overseeing offshore drilling, on his third day on the job, told the subcommittee that he has created a unit to investigate allegations of misconduct within the new Bureau of Ocean Energy, formerly known as the Minerals Management Service.

"Cozy relationships will not be tolerated," Michael R. Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general, told the Senate interior appropriations subcommittee.

-- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar testifying last month before Congress. Credit: P.M. Monsivais / Associated Press

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