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Congress' Role In BP Oil Spill Questioned: CNN's Candy Crowley Interviews Sens. Shelby, Nelson

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Congressional hearings are piling up in the wake of the April 20 explosion and subsequent oil leak from the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

While BP, rig owner and contractor Transocean, federal regulators, and the Obama administration have been criticized out for their roles and response to the spill, Congress has avoided scrutiny.

Sunday, on "State of the Union," Candy Crowley asked Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Bill Nelson (D-FL), both with Gulf Coast constituencies, why Congress didn't exercise its oversight of the Minerals Management Service before the explosion and spill.

Shelby first downplayed Congress' oversight role, but after a follow-up question, he agreed.

CROWLEY: It always gets down to this whether it's wall street or oil companies. Capitol hill says 'Well, where were the regulators, and why wasn't there a regulation?' But you all are in charge of the regulators aren't you?

So can't we ask where was the U.S. Senate, where was the House of Representatives? Why didn't they see this coming?"

SHELBY: Well, we're not in charge of the regulators. We have oversight of the regulators, the executive branch... the executive branch is in charge of the regulators...

CROWLEY: But... it doesn't take much to see that it's possible that oil can leak when you have an oil rig in the ocean. Couldn't there have been hearings saying 'well, exactly what sort of safety measures do you have. How do you know they're working. I mean there weren't those kinds of hearings. Now we've got 12 hearings coming up. But it's after the fact

SHELBY: Candy, you make a good point. This should have been done long ago, every step. Because we get about 30 percent of our oil now out of the gulf. We have hundreds of drilling platforms now, and there will probably be more. But we should never sacrifice safety.

Crowley asked Sen. Nelson the same question.

CROWLEY: ...Where was the U.S. Congress on this?

NELSON: Well you're exactly right, Candy. Big oil wants its way... there's been a cozy relationship between the regulators and MMS. You remember all those stories... sex parties, all kinds of trips...

CROWLEY: But shouldn't congress have some responsibility? That's what I'm getting at.

NELSON: You're dog-gone right, Candy. That's exactly right. And that's what a number of us have been calling for. And we could never get to first base. Because big oil would flex its muscle and call in its votes. And we could never get anything done...

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, BP spent $16 million on lobbying in 2009 and $3.53 million in the first quarter of 2010. The oil and gas industry as a whole spent a total of $169 million on lobbying in 2009.

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