President Barack Obama’s commission investigating BP Plc’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill hired Fred Bartlit, the lawyer who represented former President George W. Bush in the 2000 election dispute, as lead counsel, according to a person with knowledge of the decision.
Bartlit, 77, is among three senior staffers hired for the investigative panel, said the person, who asked not to be identified before an announcement.
The group includes former Royal Dutch Shell Plc deepwater exploration executive Richard Sears as science and engineering adviser. Sears, a geophysicist who is on loan from the oil giant to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made a speech in February titled “Planning for the End of Oil.”
The commission also appointed Jay Hakes, director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and former head of the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Energy Department, as director of research.
Republicans including Representative John Sullivan of Oklahoma have said the panel lacks industry experience.
“Does anyone here have experience in drilling wells and worked in the oil and gas industry at all?” Sullivan asked yesterday at a House Energy Committee hearing. “It’s too late now, but I don’t know why they didn’t include someone that’s from the industry that could actually, you know, use real-life experiences with this.”
The seven-member commission is co-chaired by Democrat Bob Graham, a former U.S. senator and Florida governor, and Republican William Reilly, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The members include Frances Beinecke, president of the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council; Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; and Terry D. Garcia, vice president for mission programs at the National Geographic Society.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he is confident the panel will uncover the cause of the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig leased by BP, which led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
“They were selected because they were the kinds of elder statesmen that would do a great job in reporting out the cause of what happened here and making recommendations,” Salazar said at yesterday’s hearing. He said “they are putting in the subject matter expertise that will ultimately be needed” to do their jobs.
The commission, which held its first public meeting last week in New Orleans, has until Jan. 11 to report to Obama. The panel must determine whether the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig is an “outlier,” Graham told reporters before the July 12 hearing.
“Was it an oil rig that was outside the normal standard of safety or was it representative of other rigs?” Graham asked.
Bartlit represented Bush in the 2000 presidential election trial ultimately decided when the Supreme Court stopped a recount in Florida, leaving Republican Bush with more electoral votes than Vice President Al Gore. He previously helped investigate the Occidental Piper Alpha 1988 North Sea platform explosion in which 166 lives were lost.