Congress: Enough Excuses - Time to Pass Oil Spill Response Reforms
A government investigation has found that last spring’s Deepwater Horizon explosion, which resulted in eleven worker deaths and led to our nation’s worst-ever oil spill, was the result of numerous failures and poor decision-making by BP and its contractors.
The findings contained in the joint Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and US Coast Guard report largely affirm the results of prior investigations, including the one conducted by the President’s independent, bi-partisan National Oil Spill Commission. Like the Commission, the government's investigation found that stronger and more comprehensive federal regulations and improved inspections are needed to reduce the chances of another such disaster.
Given the now extensive independent and government investigations into what went wrong and what is needed to ensure such a disaster never happens again, Congress has no excuse to not take up legislation to implement comprehensive oil spill response legislation.
In the House, Representative Markey (D-MA) has introduced H.R. 501. An earlier version of this bill was passed by the 111th House in July of 2010, and has since been updated to reflect the new findings and recommendations of the Oil Spill Commission. This bill contains provisions which are essential to increase worker safety and environmental protection related to offshore energy development. Notably, it would:
- Hold oil spill polluters responsible for paying for all of the damages incurred as a result of an oil spill. Currently, polluter's responsibility is capped at $75 million (with certain exceptions), leaving victims of a spill in the lurch should that terrifically low sum be surpassed.
- Require oil companies to demonstrate they have at least $300 million available to cover immediate expenses in the event of an accident (this is referred to as “financial responsibility requirements”).
- Increase the existing civil penalties levied against a company who is breaking the law or disregarding existing regulation. The existing fines are not high enough to deter bad behavior.
- Establish strong whistleblower protections to ensure responsible employees are not retaliated against should they expose a company’s bad behavior.
- Codify the structural re-organization of the agency which oversees offshore energy exploration and development in our oceans.
Unbelievably, the Republican-controlled House Natural Resources Committee has refused to hold a hearing on this common-sense legislation, preferring instead to pass legislation that would expand offshore drilling and actually roll-back safety provisions enacted by the Administration.
In the Senate, Senators Bingaman (D-NM) and Murkowski (R-AK) reached agreement on an offshore safety bill, S. 917, which is less far-reaching than the House bill, but would still advance important safety provisions. Yet, again, those interests beholden to the oil and gas industry were successful in stopping this legislation from passing committee back in July.
Such stasis by our Congress is hard to fathom, given the lives lost, the livelihoods diminished, and the environment soiled in the Gulf of Mexico. What will it take to shame Congress into acting?
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