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Transocean refuses to co-operate with oil spill probe

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The owner of the rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico is refusing to honor subpoenas from a federal board that has challenged the company’s involvement in monitoring the testing of a key piece of equipment that failed to stop the oil spill disaster.

Transocean said the U.S. Chemical Safety Board does not have jurisdiction in the probe, so it doesn’t have a right to the documents and other items it seeks. The board told The Associated Press late Wednesday that it does have jurisdiction and it has asked the Justice Department to intervene to enforce the subpoenas.

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Last week, the board demanded that the testing of the failed blowout preventer stop until Transocean and Cameron International are removed from any hands-on role in the examination. It said it’s a conflict of interest. The request is pending.

Testing at a NASA facility in New Orleans is on hold for the holidays anyway and isn’t expected to resume until Jan. 10, according to officials monitoring the tests and a status update distributed to interested parties.

Besides documents, the board said Transocean has also denied it access to witnesses — specifically a half-dozen of the rig company’s employees the board wants to question.

The jurisdiction dispute surrounds whether the Deepwater Horizon rig was a stationary unit or a mobile vessel. The rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and leading to more than 200 million gallons of oil being released from BP’s undersea well, according to government estimates

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The board’s primary jurisdiction to investigate serious chemical accidents and make recommendations involves hazardous releases to the air by fixed industrial facilities. The board’s managing director, Daniel Horowitz, asserted in an interview that the rig was tethered and not functioning as a moving vessel at the time of the accident, making it a stationary site.

Transocean argued in a Dec. 2 letter to the Chemical Safety Board that was obtained by the AP that because its rig was a mobile offshore drilling unit, it was a vessel, and not fixed.

Horowitz said the Interior Department indicated months ago that it thought the board had jurisdiction, and he noted that the well that blew out was a fixed unit and that his agency has been allowed to monitor the blowout preventer testing. But he also acknowledged that more recently the board has heard contradictory statements about its jurisdiction from aides to the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

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BOEMRE declined to comment. The Interior Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The blowout preventer was raised from the seafloor on Sept. 4, and testing began Nov. 16. Technicians have mostly been disassembling it so far and have made no determination about why it didn’t work.

Blowout preventers sit at the wellhead of exploratory wells and are supposed to lock in place to prevent a spill in the case of an explosion.

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The safety board complained in a letter to the BOEMRE last week that having Transocean, which maintained the blowout preventer, and Cameron, which made it, involved hands-on in the forensic analysis undermines the investigation’s credibility.

An employee of Transocean has been removed as a consultant for the Norwegian firm conducting the testing, but the ocean energy bureau has said that otherwise the companies have provided their expertise appropriately. The safety board claims conflicts still exist. Transocean has said the accusations are “totally unfounded.”

A Joint Investigation Team that includes BOEMRE personnel is leading the blowout preventer probe along with the U.S. Coast Guard.

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2020 Election

‘I don’t care’: Watch Kamala Harris shut down Chris Hayes for asking a dumb question about Trump

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Sen. Kamala Harris shut down MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes during a post-debate interview on Tuesday evening.

Hayes questioned Harris about her call for Twitter to follow their terms of service and kick President Donald Trump off of the platform.

"Do you think he puts people’s lives in danger when he targets them in tweets?" Hayes asked.

"Absolutely," Harris replied.

"Do you think he knows that?" Hayes asked.

"Does it matter?" Harris replied.

"The fact is he did it. The fact is that he is irresponsible, he is erratic," she explained. "He is like a 2-year-old with a machine gun."

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2020 Election

Democrats blast Trump and demand his impeachment at CNN debate

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Democratic White House hopefuls united in searing condemnation of Donald Trump during their fourth debate Tuesday, saying the president has broken the law, abused his power, and deserves to be impeached.

From the opening moments, most of the dozen candidates on stage launched fierce broadsides against Trump over the Ukrainian scandal at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.

"The impeachment must go forward," said Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is neck and neck with former vice president Joe Biden at the head of the 2020 nominations race.

"Impeachment is the way that we establish that this man will not be permitted to break the law over and over without consequences," she thundered.

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2020 Election

Here are 3 winners and 4 losers from the CNN/NYT Democratic presidential primary debate

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Twelve Democrats took to the stage Tuesday night for yet another debate in the party's 2020 president primary hosted by CNN and the New York Times.

After only ten candidates qualified for the previous debate, an additional two — Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and wealthy donor and former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer — made it to the stage this round for an even more crowded event.

The candidates discussed a range of important policy issues, but since the format was a debate, and they're all competing for the same nomination, it is ultimately most critical who won and who lost the night. Here are three winners and four losers — necessarily a subjective assessment, of course — from the debate:

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