The leaders of a national commission investigating the Deepwater Horizon disaster have appointed an environmental law professor from Georgetown University as the panel’s executive director.
Richard Lazarus, a Supreme Court scholar and environmental law expert, will take on the role as the executive director as the commission prepares for its first hearing in what will be a six-month probe of the oil spill in the Gulf and its causes.
A former assistant solicitor general, Lazarus has participated in 40 cases before the Supreme Court, including a number of suits brought by environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and American River.
His appointment could feed worries that the seven-member commission and its management is tilted too heavily toward environmental interests — without adequate representation from drilling experts or scientists with oil industry ties.
The roster of members includes science and engineering experts and two oil spill veterans — one who was involved in guiding the restoration of Alaska waters after the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground in 1989 and another involved in handling Valdez-related claims.
There are no representatives from the oil and gas industry, although one of the co-chairmen, William Reilly, is a director of ConocoPhillips (as well as a former Environmental Protection Agency head). The other co-chairman is former Florida governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, today said that while “it would have been preferable to have somebody with (a) background” and expertise in oil drilling, he would reserve judgment.
“I hope that if they don’t have the expertise . . . that they will invite people with the expertise to come testify before the commission,” Cornyn said.
President Barack Obama, who launched the national commission with an executive order on May 22, has asked Congress to give the panel $15 million to fund its investigation.
The House of Representatives today also voted 420-1 to give the panel the power to subpoena documents and compel testimony from reluctant witnesses as part of its probe.