House passes oil spill legislative package

The House has passed, by a vote of 209-193, the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2010, aimed at preventing another Gulf oil tragedy, and ensuring polluters like BP pay the full cost of damages resulting from oil spills.  Final passage occurred earlier tonight, Friday July 30th, as members headed for the exits for an extended six-week recess to allow reconstruction of some of the House chamber’s historic interior.  The Senate will remain in town for an additional week, hopefully with enough time to pass a companion bill.

The bill passed with 9 amendments, including one from Congressman Jim Himes (CT) and another from Congressman Gerry Connolly (VA) which were strongly supported by NRDC, and described in this blog by my colleague Regan Nelson. 

The amendment offered by Himes clarifies that land acquisition deserves full and fair consideration as part of the natural resource damage assessment process that occurs after an oil spill.  The Himes’ amendment passed 258-149.  The amendment offered by Connolly closes a loophole that would allow responsible parties to thwart their economic liability by allowing their subsidiaries to go bankrupt.

The final bill increases regulatory oversight and safety measures for offshore operations; strengthens systems for ocean planning to better ensure that one set of oceans and coastal uses does not preclude other uses and values; and provides funding for ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes protection, restoration, and science through a new trust fund. The bill assures that American taxpayers get a fair market value for oil and gas extracted from federal leases and establishes a mutual insurance system among those doing exploration and drilling in the Gulf to cover liability from spills to ensure that taxpayers are not stuck with the cleanup costs or paying for the environmental and economic damages.

The bill also includes important onshore reforms.  First, it fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This fund sets aside areas in need of permanent protection.  We have consumed in a century fossil fuels that took 100 million years to create; we can at least use a small portion of the money from exploitation of these resources to protect forever our nation’s valuable natural treasures for future generations.  The bill also removes the special exemption that the oil and gas industry received three years ago from the Clean Water Act’s stormwater requirements.

Overall, this bill is a big win for the taxpayers and for those affected by the Gulf oil spill.  Not only will this bill reduce the federal deficit, but it also ensures that Big Oil will be held accountable when people or the environment are injured from oil spill accidents, and that taxpayers are protected from having to pick up the tab.

The bill could be even stronger and it has some unfortunate provisions, including one that modifies the current deepwater drilling moratorium.  That provision originated in an amendment from Representative Charlie Melancon(LA).  But with the passage of the Melancon amendment, the House then went on to defeat an amendment for a complete repeal of the moratorium. 

Without question, the bill as a whole is an important step forward in ocean protection.  It should be receiving more attention and broader support.

Now, as always it seems, we turn to my old bosses in the Senate.  With a vacation deadline of August 6 or 7, it’s up to them to complete the job.