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Congressional Action on BP Oil Spill - House Passed Biggest Overhaul of Oil Industry in Decades

Last year, the House of Representatives passed a sweeping package of offshore drilling reforms as part of the response to the BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  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.

The House also passed legislation House to:

  • ensure fair compensation to the families of those killed or injured in the BP spill;
  • ensure aid to the Gulf, tough oversight for BP, and ample resources to respond to the spill;
  • develop new methods and technologies to clean up oil spills; and
  • help us develop safer drilling technologies and prevent an accident such as the BP disaster from ever happening again.

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. 

OTHER LEGISLATION

Also in July, the House passed two bills from the Science and Technology Committee:

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.