Obama Pipeline Official Recuses Herself from Investigation

A worker lifts oil-covered debris from the Kalamazoo River in Battle Creek, Mich. July 27, 2010. At least 877,000 gallons of oil that leaked from an Enbridge Energy Partners pipeline into a Michigan's Kalamazoo river.

By Laura Strickler, CBS News Investigates

The official who runs the federal agency that oversees pipeline safety recused herself from a federal investigation into the cause of a massive Michigan oil spill because she once represented the company in question when she was an attorney at a Washington, D.C. law firm.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in the Department of Transportation is led by Cynthia Quarterman. She represented Enbridge Energy Partners, the U.S. subsidiary of the Canadian energy giant responsible for the 800,000 gallon oil spill in July, 2010 that has polluted creeks and rivers near Marshall, Michigan.

Tomorrow,  the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing examining what went wrong with the Enbridge pipeline. Because of her recusal, Quarterman's deputy will testify instead.

The pipeline agency's spokesperson sent this statement regarding Quarterman's recusal: "Her Ethics Pledge precludes her from handling particular matters involving her former private sector clients. Administrator Quarterman was a partner at Steptoe & Johnson where she represented Enbridge in matters before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This recusal from Enbridge extends for two years from the date of her appointment on November 16, 2009."

Prior to working at Steptoe & Johnson, Quarterman was the director of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) during the Clinton Administration. MMS oversaw offshore oil drilling until its name was changed to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion.