WASHINGTON — Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, disdains a new presidential commission established to investigate the Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe.
He calls the commission members "radical environmentalists." He questions their ability to shed political bias. He doubts they'll do much good, and on the House floor he symbolically protested their receiving subpoena powers.
"Congressman Nunes didn't want to give subpoena power to a group of radical environmentalists masquerading as independent evaluators of the facts," Nunes' spokesman, Andrew House, said Friday.
Nunes was traveling from Washington to California on Friday and couldn't be reached.
Nunes' vehemence sets him apart, even from many of his fellow Republicans. He is not, however, the only one to question the makeup of the new oil spill commission that the Wall Street Journal dubbed the "anti-drilling commission."
On Wednesday, the House voted overwhelmingly to grant subpoena power to the seven-member National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The panel will provide recommendations for preventing future offshore drilling spills and for mitigating the impact of those that occur.
President Barack Obama established the commission following the April 20 oilrig blowout that killed 11 men and has been fouling the Gulf for more than two months.
"It is important that we get to the bottom of the causes of this terrible tragedy," said Rep. Doc Hastings, the senior Republican on the House Resources Committee. "We need to know what went wrong and who did precisely what wrong."
The House approved the subpoena measure after a brief debate by a 420-1 margin. Two hundred and fifty-one Democrats and 169 Republicans voted in support of granting subpoena power. The only "no" vote was cast by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
Two Republicans voted "present." One of them was Nunes.
Traditionally, lawmakers vote "present" for several reason. Often, it expresses discontent while stopping short of voicing outright opposition.
"Congressman Nunes believes it is important for an independent group of fact finders to investigate the disaster, and he would support full subpoena authority for such a body," House said. "The bill on the House floor did not accomplish this."
Like other San Joaquin Valley lawmakers, of both parties, Nunes has been a supporter of energy development as well as a recipient of campaign contributions from BP. Nunes has received $4,000 from the company's political action committee since 2007, records show.
The other lawmaker voting "present" Wednesday was Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea. Miller explained that he is recusing himself from BP-related matters because he owns stock in Transocean, the corporate owner of the Deepwater Horizon oilrig. Miller owns between $15,000 and $50,000 worth of Transocean Ltd. stock, according his 2010 financial disclosure statement.
The oil spill commission has six months to complete its work. It's co-chaired by Bob Graham, a former Democratic senator from Florida, and William K. Reilly, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator during the first Bush administration.
One member is Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Nunes has frequently feuded with the environmental organization, particularly over the group's efforts promoting restoration of the San Joaquin River.
The commission includes physicist Cherry Murray, dean of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science, but the panel does not have a petroleum engineering expert. The commission's other members include four lawyers and an oceanographer.
"If these were prospective jurors, they would not be allowed to adjudicate the case," House said.