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Democrats' Response to BP Oil Spill Mirror Commission's Findings

Today, the National Commission on BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling issued its final report. The commission issued the following recommendations for reform. Many of the suggested reforms were included in the oil spill legislation that House Democrats passed last year (H.R. 3534, The CLEAR Act). Below find some of the reforms and the legislative response by House Democrats.

Commission Reform: Strengthen Regulatory Oversight. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) is underfunded and its personnel often poorly trained. As a result, Congress needs to pass legislation that will ensure that BOEMRE staff is highly trained. The legislation should also establish a barrier between the lease revenue collection and safety and environmental review functions. The Director of BOEMRE should be a term appointee, have technical expertise, and the office of safety and environmental review should report directly to the Secretary of the Interior Department.

  • House Democrats' Response: The commission's recommendation is consistent with the legislation House Democrats passed in July of 2010 (H.R. 3534-CLEAR Act). Under the House-passed bill, three new agencies would be established and personnel and training would be strengthened.

Commission Reform: Increase the Liability Cap for Spills. The commission recommends significantly increasing the liability cap for oil and gas companies drilling offshore.

  • House Democrats' Response: The House-passed bill would have completely lifted the liability cap and imposed unlimited liability on those responsible for an oil spill.

Commission Reform: Dedicate Fines to Restoring the Gulf of Mexico. 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines and penalties associated with oil spills should go to the environmental restoration of the Gulf.

  • House Democrats' Response: The House-passed bill established a Gulf of Mexico Restoration Program and strengthened fines and liability requirements.

Commission Reform: Increase the Amount of Time for Review and Approval of Oil and Gas Drilling Applications from 30 to 60 days.

  • House Democrats' Response: The House-passed bill would have established a 90-day period for review and approval of drilling applications.

Commission Reform: Elevate Scientific Review. Include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Coast Guard in the decision-making process for where and how to conduct oil and gas leasing. The Department of the Interior must accept NOAA's recommendations or explain in writing why it is not in the national interest to adopt them.

  • House Democrats' Response: The bill passed last year by House Democrats strengthened the environmental review and consultation roles of both NOAA and the Coast Guard.

Commission Reform: Make Spill Response Plans Real. The Commission recommends that spill response plans must include realistic worst case discharge scenarios and that the Coast Guard must also approve the plans. Spill response technologies must be improved.

  • House Democrats' Response: Legislation introduced in the last Congress by Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) (and co-sponsored by Congressman James F. Sensenbrenner (R-WI)) requires that all response plans are based on realistic worst case scenarios.

Commission Reform: Create an Industry-run Safety Organization. The commission has determined that safety problems in the oil and gas industry are systemic. As a result, the commission proposes the creation of a new industry-run organization. Similar entities have been created before, such as the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) which was created by the nuclear energy industry following the Three-Mile Island incident.

  • House Democrats' Response: This recommendation is directed at industry. The House-passed bill would have established a training academy for government inspectors and required applicants to submit a “safety case” along with each new application to drill.

Commission Reform: Increase Scientific Knowledge and Response Capability in the Arctic. The commission recommends that the United States Coast Guard have better response capabilities for Arctic offshore drilling and that oil and gas companies must demonstrate an ability to respond to an oil spill. The commission also calls for better scientific understanding of the Arctic.

  • House Democrats' Response:  House Democrats have called for additional scientific review before extensive drilling operations proceed in the fragile Arctic environment.