Congress Nearly Fails in its Efforts to Prevent Oil Spills

So, with all the talk of the need for compromise and conciliation in the Congress when it comes to keeping the American people safe, we certainly must have new effective regulations concerning oil drilling safety and cleanup in place nearly two years after the Deep Water Horizon Disaster, right? Not so much. According to a recent report issued by a presidential panel, Congress ranks below big oil in its responsiveness to the explosion and subsequent environmental disaster left by the BP rig.

The report cited significant progress by the Obama administration and the oil industry, giving them a B and a C+ grade, respectively, for their efforts to bolster safety, spill response and resources. Congress, however, got a D grade for its inability to “enact any legislation responding to the explosion and spill.”

The report by members of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling complained that Congress had failed to pass legislation requiring the offshore oil and gas industry to bear the costs of federal oversight through fees on leasing and permitting reviews. The presidential panel had also recommended that the $75-million liability cap for offshore oil spills be increased substantially.

It is inconceivable that the two parties that control every piece of federal legislation that leaves the Congress en route to the President have not passed a single bill addressing oil rig safety and cleanup response. At least three oil rigs around the world have caused significant environmental damage in just the past ten months. This isn’t Medicare reform or the defense budget. This is simple straightforward legislation that will protect American businesses, homes, jobs, and the environment. Moreover, Congress is awash in bipartisan studies and recommendations concerning what should be done to ensure that disasters like the one that befell the Deep water Horizon are few and far between, and that when it does occur, that response is swift, adequate, and based on sound science. This development should infuriate the American people.

Sens. Mary L. Landrieu(D-La.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in a statement that they shared the commission’s frustrations and blamed other colleagues for the gridlock on legislation.

“A bipartisan majority in the Energy Committee and the full Senate would be happy to pass common-sense legislation addressing new production, safety and a fair share of revenue for the affected states,” they said. “Unfortunately, a small number of senators are opposed to engaging in a debate that includes revenue sharing.”

To be fair, the Gulf state and Alaskan Senators are in effect crushing any effort to get this done over more demands from them that coastal states share in more revenue from off-shore oil leases and oil-producing efforts, an idea that runs in conflict with the Obama administration’s reasonable request to pass a clean bill. Gulf of Mexico states previously were granted oil and gas revenue sharing in a 2006 law, ensuring a 37.5 percent cut from specific leases, but much of the revenue does not begin to ooze until 2016.  Other committee members are sure to offer up amendments, but the revenue sharing provision which Landrieu seems to be pushing on the hardest is ultimately what is stalling the legislation. Even so,if a “small number” of “mostly Republican” Senators are holding up this legislation, let’s call them out and publicly humiliate these enemies of sound judgment. The folks over at The Hill have published some great coverage of the issue (click the links in the article to read more detailed coverage) and they also describe how it has been a bipartisan effort to ensure that increased safety measures and stepped-up environmental preparedness do not come to pass.