Passing spill bill is top priority
Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter
Passing an oil
drilling safety bill is a top goal of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman
Jeff Bingaman, and his panel is hard at work on retooling the measure, a top aide to the senator
"Senator Bingaman has it at the top of his priority list every
time we talk about what needs to
happen," said Linda Lance, senior counsel on the Democratic side of the committee.
The committee is focused on how to get a measure passed in the new Congress, Lance said
during a briefing for reporters on the state of oil
spill legislation, sponsored by the Pew
"That it's Bingaman's priority ought to be enough," Lance said of the strategy for passing a
measure. "There's potential here. This is a difficult political climate."
The committee last summer unan
imously passed a bill that responded to BP PLC's Deepwater
Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico last April. But there was never a floor vote on the legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D
Nev.) last July pulled a Democratic response to the spill
and a Republican alternative
from floor consideration after failing to find enough support.
Lance said that Bingaman (D
N.M.) is working with new members of the committee and
conferring with other committees that have jurisdiction over the issues rela
ted to oil drilling and
Bingaman's bill, she said, "was supported across a wide range of political ideologies the last time
because it is focused on safety."
"Senator Bingaman's way of working, historically, has been go and talk to people a
cross the aisle
and see what they think and see if we can't incorporate things that we didn't think of, and that's
how we'll do it again, so I'm hopeful," Lance added. "I think there's a shot here."
The Pew Environment Group since the spill has been pushin
g for a measure that would enact
new oversight, including: a more thorough review of environmental impacts of offshore oil and
gas drilling; a separation of government offices that collect revenues from offshore drilling from
those that enforce safety regu
lations; an end to the current $75 million liability cap for economic
damages connected to a spill; and a national ocean policy that would coordinate with regional
plans in helping guide places for offshore drilling. It wants to "identify which areas are
ppropriate for energy development and which are too ecologically sensitive."
The oil industry last summer voiced concerns about an oil spill bill, particularly the idea of
eliminating a cap on liability, fearing that doing so could push the smaller players
Marilyn Heiman, director of the offshore energy reform project for Pew, has said that
environmental groups, realizing that having no liability cap is politically untenable, instead are
asking for a higher cap that would adjust upward with
Heiman said today that Pew and others will push lawmakers to pass a bill.
"We're going to keep the pressure on from the outside ... and make sure that people realize this is
not going away," Heiman said. "It's an important issue, even among man
y other important
In addition to liability, another issue that could stall a bill is how to fund beefed
and prevention planning.
"We are fully aware that this is a budget
cutting year, and it's going to be tough," Heiman said.
it's not a place to cut corners."
"If we're going to major accidents like the Deepwater Horizon, we need more than one inspector
for every 54 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico," Heiman added.