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Spill panel may look at energy needs

Seth Borenstein
AP Science Writer

Washington — The new presidential commission investigating the Gulf oil spill will include two experts who have been active on the subject of global warming, The Associated Press has learned.

The two will join former Florida Sen. Bob Graham and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William Reilly, whose roles as co-chairmen of the seven-member panel were previously announced.

Together, the backgrounds of the four panel members selected so far suggest the commission will look at more than just what went wrong, including the bigger picture of the country’s conflicting environmental and energy needs.

The third and fourth commission members are Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science, and former Alaska Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, now University of Alaska Anchorage chancellor, the AP has learned. The appointments were expected to be announced publicly soon.

“These appointments portend an impact in both the policy and science of coastal management and restoration and oil spill response,” said Virginia Burkett, the Louisiana-based chief climate change scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey. She praised both picks.

Wes Tunnell of Texas A&M University Corpus Christi said the selections indicate the panel will look at broad energy policies. “That’s too bad,” he said. “We need to focus on what happened here and what we can learn from this.”

President Barack Obama hinted as much Wednesday in a speech in Pittsburgh, saying he was naming the commission “so that the American people will have answers on exactly what happened.” But he added: “We have to acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth, and these are risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes. We also have to acknowledge that an America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and our grandchildren.”

Boesch is a native of New Orleans and a biological oceanographer who has been a leader in studying how man affects coastal areas. He helped write two books on oil spills and the environment and was the first executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

Ulmer, who was lieutenant governor from 1994 to 2002. She later taught at the University of Alaska Anchorage and was named its chancellor, the No. 2 position there. She announced her retirement earlier this year.

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