Today, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling released their report on steps the federal government and the oil industry should take to prevent similar disasters in the future. In the 111th Congress, the House passed a series of initiatives representing the biggest overhaul of the oil industry in decades:
OIL SPILL LIABILITY TRUST FUND
The Congress started out by passing legislation to underwrite federal response activities related to the BP/Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (S.3473). The legislation, which was signed into law by President Obama, permits the Coast Guard to obtain one or more advances from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to underwrite federal response activities related to the BP/Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Before enactment of this legislation, the Coast Guard could only withdraw up to $100 million from the fund to finance emergency response efforts after an accident and that money is about to run out. BP is required to repay these funds. The trust fund, created by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, is funded by an 8-cent fee paid by the oil companies on each barrel of oil.
CLEAR ACT AND WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION ACT
In July 2010, the House passed the updated Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act of 2010 (H.R. 3534), key reforms targeted to effective prevention and response to oil spills and protection of our coastal communities and waters:
Contains strong new safety measures, including independent certification of critical equipment;
Holds BP and oil industry fully responsible for cleanup costs and recovery after spills – removing the $75 million cap on economic damages to be paid by Big Oil to families and small businesses;
Strengthens oversight of oil drilling by dismantling the current scandal ridden agency in charge;
Restores the Gulf Coast and protects local residents;
Provides long overdue taxpayer protections, making oil companies pay their fair share for drilling on public lands; and
Reduces the deficit – saving taxpayers more than $5 billion in the next five years (CBO), and up to $50 billion of the next 25 years (GAO).
The House also passed the Offshore Oil and Gas Worker Whistleblower Protection Act (H.R. 5851), which extends whistleblower protections to workers regarding Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas exploration, drilling, production, or cleanup, whose employers are engaged in those activities – as they are in the best position to discover safety hazards.
Also in July, the House passed two bills from the Science and Technology Committee:
H.R. 2693, the Oil Pollution Research and Development Program Reauthorization Act, which will modify oil drilling research, development to further innovation technologies and methods to prevent, detect, recover and mitigate oil discharges.
H.R. 5716, the Safer Oil and Natural Gas Drilling Technology Research and Development Program, which makes safety and accident prevention and mitigation a key priority in the deepwater drilling research and development.
The House passed H.R. 5503, the SPILL Act, to reform maritime liability laws – Death on the High Seas Act (1920), Jones Act (1920) and the Limitation on Liability Act (1851) – to ensure that the families of those killed or injured in the BP Spill and other such tragedies are justly compensated for their losses.
The House passed legislation (H.R. 5481) to give subpoena power to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The Commission—co-chaired by former Senator Bob Graham of Florida and former EPA Administrator Bill Reilly—was established on May 22 and is tasked with providing recommendations on how we can prevent future spills that result from offshore drilling and mitigate any impact.
As Leader Pelosi notes in her statement on the report, the commission’s findings mirror the legislative actions taken by the House last year:
Today’s report is a clarion call to follow through on our commitment to respond to the BP oil spill: to hold the oil industry accountable, to help the families and businesses of the Gulf recover and rebuild, and to better prepare for unforeseen disasters. It is also a reminder of the urgent need to develop and enact a comprehensive clean energy policy that creates jobs, protects our environment, and preserves our national security by reducing our dependence on oil.
The commission’s work reveals what many already knew – that the spill was a result of systemic failures of oversight, management, transparency, and response on the part of BP and others responsible for the safety of the Deepwater Horizon rig.
Last year, the House acted to address these failures, passing legislation to strengthen safety and oversight of oil drilling, ensure just compensation for the victims of the spill, and develop technologies to prevent and respond to future disasters. Indeed, the recommendations of this panel mirror the legislative actions taken by the House last year. In the new Congress, we must take up this challenge again and adopt the commission’s key recommendations for greater safety and higher standards of accountability for oil companies. And we must work to provide the Gulf Coast region with the resources to restore the local ecosystem and revitalize the local economy.
I commend President Obama for his dedication to get to the bottom of the BP oil spill and for appointing this bipartisan panel, and I thank the commission for its work and leadership.
Learn more from the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure: BP National Commission Endorses CLEAR Act Safety Principles»