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Oil commission members meet at WH; call for more regulatory funding


Speaking with reporters after a White House meeting, two oil commission members stressed the need to increase funding for regulating offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and establish higher safety standards to prevent another disastrous oil spill like the one that crippled the region last spring.

Former Florida Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham, as well as William Reilly, who was the Environmental Protection Agency administrator under the first President Bush, said they had spent "an hour or so" meeting with President Obama, Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, environmental adviser Carol Browner and science adviser John Holdren, answering their questions, providing suggestions and discussing the way forward after releasing the recommendations of six months of work on the oil commission earlier today.

Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Council on Environmental Quality Director Nancy Sutley also participated in the meeting, according to the White House.

Reilly said the oil industry was "highly resourced" and "highly capable" and that the problems revealed by the BP catastrophe in the Gulf were "fixable," with the help of increased funding.

"There has been a long period, through many administrations, of an under-resourced regulatory agency," he said. "It did not have the capability, the competence, the technical training, nor frankly the compensation sufficient to be a match for the people whom it was inspecting and evaluating and enforcing laws on. That needs to change. Congress needs to appropriate more resources for that department."

The Minerals Management Service, the agency that regulates drilling, has undergone a restructuring in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that took 11 lives and wreaked havoc on the region's fishing and tourist industries. It is now called the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

In calling on the drilling industry to establish a safety institute to upgrade their safety performance -- just as other high-risk industries like the nuclear and chemical industries did after disasters at Three Mile Island and Bhopal, India -- Graham noted that the BP spill was not inevitable.

"The fundamental finding of our commission is that this was an avoidable, a preventable disaster," he said. "There are steps that can be taken to move America to a substantially higher level of safety in offshore drilling in the Gulf."

Graham said many of the commission's suggestions could be implemented by executive action and said Obama had indicated that he would give close attention to the commission's list and would direct his administration to take those executive actions, where appropriate.

The White House did not confirm the content of the discussion. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president thanked the members of the commission for the important work they have done and noted that the response to the oil spill was still ongoing as officials try to mitigate its effects and examine the impact to the Gulf ecosystem. He said the mistakes and oversights by the industry and government must not be repeated and added that the administration had already taken steps to reform the oil and gas industry.

"These efforts -- a priority for the administration -- have included an overhaul of the bureau that oversees the industry within the Department of Interior and the implementation of new safety and environmental standards," Gibbs' statement read in part. "And while we have already taken significant action, the Commission's recommendations will help inform the work that remains to be done."