Oil Spill Amnesia Bills Pass House Natural Resources Committee

As the 1-year anniversary of the BP Gulf oil disaster approaches, it appears that many members of the House Natural Resources Committee are suffering from amnesia.  Indeed, on April 13, the Committee held a markup on 3 bills introduced by Rep. Hastings (R-WA) that ignore the fact that the BP tragedy ever happened.  The Committee passed H.R. 1229, H.R. 1230, and H.R. 1231 by votes of 27-16, 29-14, and 29-14, respectively.  Two Democrats – Reps. Costa (CA) and Boren (OK) – broke party ranks to support all 3 bills. 

These bills are an insult to the many Gulf residents who are still suffering from the economic, environmental, and health consequences of the oil disaster.  As my colleague Regan Nelson recently wrote, these measures would allow oil companies to sidestep proper environmental analysis, rush permits, and mandate drilling off the Atlantic coast (from Maine to Florida), the California coast, and in the Arctic Ocean and Bristol Bay.

During the markup, Reps. Lamborn (R-CO), Hastings (R-WA), and Landry (R-LA), among others, falsely claimed that the proposals would reduce gas prices.  Meanwhile, Reps. Holt (D-NJ) and Markey (D-MA) pointed out the facts:  because U.S. oil supply (only 2% of the world’s oil reserves) will never be able to meet U.S. oil demand (25% of global supply), more domestic drilling won’t reduce prices at the pump in the near-term, and only by a few pennies over the long-term.

The hearing also demonstrated that no matter how much the GOP might talk about reducing the deficit, it won’t do so if such a move might harm Big Oil.  Indeed, during the markup, Rep. Markey (D-MA) offered an amendment that would prevent the Secretary of the Interior from issuing new leases to the holders of 8 leases on which royalties were mistakenly revoked, unless they agree to pay royalties on these leases. By imposing proper royalty requirements on these leases, this amendment would produce $53 billion in royalties over the next 4 years, all of which would go to the U.S. Treasury to reduce our deficit.  Despite the fact that curbing the deficit is one of the GOP’s purported goals, not a single member of the Republican Party voted for the amendment.  The message could not be more clear:  when faced with a choice between helping Americans reduce our deficit and providing unnecessary assistance to the oil industry, these Members will choose their campaign contributors over our country.

In addition to Rep. Markey’s amendment, Reps. Holt (D-NJ), Garamendi (D-CA), Hanabusa (D-HI), Lujan (D-NM), Pallone (D-NJ), Sarbanes (D-MD), and Tsongas (D-MA) offered 26 amendments to strengthen environmental reviews during the permitting process, increase industry oversight, preserve certain coastal areas from drilling, and improve safety for oil and gas workers.  Not a single one of these amendments passed.     

To “memorialize” the BP oil spill, which occurred a year ago tomorrow, with bills that ignore the lessons learned from this tragedy is nothing short of offensive.  In order to properly remember one of the worst environmental catastrophes of our nation’s history, we should be doing everything we can to ensure that something like the BP spill never happens again—not pretending it never happened.