Dirk Kempthorne has spent a lot of time in the nation's capital: six years as U.S. senator and another two and a half as Secretary of Interior. He probably wishes he had returned under more pleasant circumstances.
Kempthorne spent the better part of his Tuesday in the hot-seat being grilled from a special joint subcommittee on the Gulf oil-spill debacle.
Kempthorne joined his Interior predecessor, Gale Norton, and current Secretary Ken Salazar in answering questions from the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. Kempthorne spent a good deal of time defending the Office of Minerals Managment Service, the divison responsible for oversight of offshore resources.
Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, said Kempthorne oversaw the "deeply flawed assessment of potential environmental impacts of lease sales and MMS's mission became to serve the oil and gas industry."
Kempthorne defended his tenure, saying, "There was absolutely not an effort to have less regulation or oversight, and the Bush administration strove to have the highest environmental standards."
Republican Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas slammed committee Democrats for using what he called "a rearview mirror" in their investigation.
But Democratic Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee said Bush administration policies set the stage for the Gulf disaster.
"On April 20, 2010, the regulatory house of cards erected over an eight-year period by the Bush-Cheney administration collapsed with the explosion on the BP Deepwater Horizon rig," Markey said.