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Mitch Bernard’s Blog

Frances Beinecke is an independent member of the Oil Spill Commission

Mitch Bernard

Posted June 24, 2010 in U.S. Law and Policy

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We at NRDC were honored that President Obama chose NRDC’s President, Frances Beinecke, to serve on the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

NRDC was one of many voices calling for establishment of the Commission.  By the time Frances was appointed to it, we had put in place several conflict of interest protections, including a firewall between Frances and all of NRDC’s pending and potential litigation efforts.  Out of an abundance of caution, we determined this firewall should cover litigation on all issues, not just those dealing with offshore drilling.  Frances stepped down from the Board/Staff Litigation Committee, the body that considers and approves all of NRDC’s litigation.  She was removed from all email distribution lists that discuss proposed or pending NRDC litigation, and all staff were instructed not to speak with Frances about ongoing or potential NRDC cases. 

These measures exceed standard conflict avoidance practices.  We put them in place to protect the integrity of both NRDC’s and the Commission’s work.

NRDC’s litigation work goes on.  Last week, after Frances was placed behind the firewall I’ve described, NRDC joined several environmental groups to intervene in the Hornbeck v. Salazar case, in which commercial interests in the Gulf seek to invalidate Secretary Salazar’s six-month moratorium on deepwater exploratory drilling for gas or oil.  We decided to enter the lawsuit without Frances’ knowledge.  NRDC participated and continues to participate in this lawsuit without influence from Frances.  The firewall we have established will stay in place as NRDC appeals the district court decision enjoining enforcement of the moratorium. This litigation is consistent with NRDC’s efforts to help the people and the ecosystem of the Gulf.

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