Saturday, July 28, 2012

Is Salazar the New Holder?

Charges of cover-ups, data manipulation, and junk science; noncompliance with congressional requests and mandates; putting a chokehold on energy: Interior scandals stack up.

In April, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee unleashed on Attorney General Eric Holder for a litany of sins that had surfaced before one committee or another and made the Obama appointee a household name through cable news, talk radio, and the blogosphere.

“The pattern of pushing partisan ideology rather than neutrally enforcing the law began nearly as soon as the Administration took office and has continued unabated since,” the report from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) stated, launching into criticism of Holder’s handling of Operation Fast and Furious, legal action against Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law, challenging states’ voter ID laws, blocking congressional inquiries, offering shady counsel on recess appointments, etc.

Last month, Holder became the first sitting Cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress.

Pushing the administration’s agenda. Not cooperating with committee investigations. Jeopardizing American values and the rule of law. The charges against Holder aren’t unique to the attorney general.

It brings to mind the question: Scandal-wise, congressional spotlight-wise, and perhaps soon headline-wise, is Interior Secretary Ken Salazar the new Holder?

The Interior Department has become synonymous with evading congressional requests in the investigation of how the Obama administration bent scientific reports to support its drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill. The department’s inspector general who was supposed to ensure oversight of that process is even being investigated herself on allegations that she tampered with a probe of the moratorium.

Sens. David Vitter (R-La.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas) won a request for the Integrity Committee of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency to investigate Acting IG Mary Kendall. She has also been called to testify before the House Natural Resources Committee on Aug. 2.

In shades of the DOJ, the Interior Department has responded to committee requests for specific documents with blacked-out paragraphs and entire pages of redacted information, all while claiming to have answered the panel’s requests with “nearly 2,000 pages of documents.”

And when five witnesses linked to the Gulf drilling moratorium were asked to testify before the Natural Resources Committee this week, the Interior Department refused to confirm that it would make those officials available to Congress despite multiple inquiries from the committee. Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) was forced to cancel yesterday’s scheduled hearing, to be rescheduled sometimes after the August recess.

“There is a clear pattern of actions by the Interior Department to withhold information and answers on the Administration’s falsely edited report and decision to impose a Gulf drilling moratorium that cost thousands of jobs, inflicted widespread economic harm and restricted American energy production,” said Hastings.

“The Department is refusing to comply with a Congressional subpoena for documents and now they refuse to make key individuals in the Department available for on-the-record questioning,” he added. “This investigative hearing will happen and will be rescheduled to ensure cooperation.”

But this is far from the only taint on President Obama’s Interior Department.

Ken Salazar, a former Democratic senator and attorney general of Colorado, was brought into the fold early by Obama’s transition team.

Since then, his department has been held in civil contempt for refusing to comply with an injunction against the offshore drilling moratorium and has spun the administration line about domestic energy production being up while simultaneously cutting back on oil and gas exploration on federal lands — with leasing falling to the lowest amount of acreage in 20 years.

Then there was the Fish and Wildlife Service’s drastic cutback of water to cities and farms in California’s San Joaquin Valley in deference to a tiny threatened fish, based on an environmental study that a federal judge ruled in 2010 to be “arbitrary” and “capricious” junk science.

“There’s plenty of scandal to go around in this administration,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who represents the valley, told PJM. “With Eric Holder, you have a major scandal with Fast and Furious, which has resulted in numerous deaths. And it is inexcusable that Holder is defying Congressional requests to turn over documents that could explain how this misguided operation was conceived and implemented.”

“As for Ken Salazar, he is a fully owned subsidiary of the environmental lobby,” Nunes continued. “This is evident in the plight of my district’s farmers, who have had much of their water supply cut off and are being forced off their land due to federal environmental regulations that can accurately be described as anti-human.”

The Valley farmers aren’t the only Californians to be bullied under Salazar’s watch. The Drakes Bay Oyster Company was accused of having an adverse impact on harbor seals at Point Reyes, data “selectively” slanted, in the words of the National Research Council, by Pacific West regional director of the National Park Service Jon Jarvis.

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