By Kiley Kroh
Last week, one year and two weeks after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig took the lives of 11 people and perpetuated the worst environmental disaster in US history, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives began voting on a trio of bills designed to repeat the catastrophe:
HR 1230: Reopening risky offshore drilling. The first of the “Oil Above All” bills, HR 1230, passed the House by a vote of 266–149. If enacted into law, the bill would force the Administration to offer lease sales in the Gulf and off Virginia that were canceled in the wake of the BP disaster, after the administration determined safety standards and environmental impact assessments were in serious need of reform.
HR 1229: Accelerating drilling permits. The bill would force the Secretary of Interior to approve or deny all new applications for drilling permits under an existing exploration plan within 30 days (with the possibility of two 15-day extensions). These applications are for dangerous and complicated work and often take oil companies years to compile “” the bill would impose rushed, arbitrary permitting deadlines, as well as prevent the enforcement of key public interest and environmental laws. HR 1229 is scheduled for a vote next week.
HR 1231: Opening everywhere to offshore drilling. This legislation would force sweeping new drilling in sensitive areas “” namely the entire Atlantic coast, Southern California coast, the Arctic Ocean and Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
All this flies in the face of recommendations of the President’s National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, which stated unequivocally in its report that laws for spill prevention and response need to be improved before drilling is expanded:
The technology, laws and regulations, and practices for containing, responding to, and cleaning up spills lag behind the real risks associated with deepwater drilling into large, high-pressure reservoirs of oil and gas located far offshore and thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface. Government must close the existing gap and industry must support rather than resist that effort.
“To be allowed to drill on the outer continental shelf is a privilege to be earned, not a private right to be exercised,” the commission concluded.
Instead of working to implement this fundamental principle and prevent another blowout, the House leadership is unconscionably choosing to speed up the exact processes that the commission cited as contributing factors to the BP disaster. The commission lays out a set of critical recommendations that have been completely ignored by this Congress. It should be no surprise to anyone that none of them included “speed up permitting” or “open half of the Outer Continental Shelf to drilling.”
What the commission did find was that the environmental review process in existence before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe was grossly inadequate. Yet, this is precisely the situtation HR 1230 would exacerbate by opening specific areas for immediate leasing with no additional environmental review or public input, relying on outdated environmental impact statements generated long before the Gulf spill.
The Commission cited lack of adequate government oversight as a key contributing factor to the BP disaster. Instead of strengthening those provisions, with HR 1229, Republicans want to force the Administration to approve permits without the opportunity to conduct a safe and sufficient review.
The same can be said for HR 1231. The commission found that “deepwater energy exploration and production, particularly at the frontiers of experience, involve risks for which neither industry nor government has been adequately prepared,” and called for significant scientific research and vastly expanded oil spill response investment before drilling is expanded in the Arctic. Instead, Republicans are willing to lease half of our oceans using information that is wholly inaccurate.
It’s not surprising that House Republicans are so eager to pander to the oil industry, given the millions of dollars in contributions they’ve accepted, but to actively take measures to weaken the government’s ability to protect American citizens and fragile ecosystems from another oil-related disaster is unfathomable “” and all while perpetuating the falsehood that increased drilling will lower gas prices. Even the non-partisan Energy Information Agency found that whether we dramatically expand offshore drilling or stop selling offshore leases entirely, it will have virtually no effect on gas prices “” ever. Frances Beinecke, member of the Oil Spill Commission, released a statement yesterday calling the fabricated connection between drilling and gas prices “misleading and wrong.”
Rather than work to develop energy alternatives that might ease the pain at the pump, or eliminate the obscene handouts to the oil industry, or develop safety standards to prevent the horror of a spill such as the Deepwater Horizon from occurring again, House Republicans are letting greed trump responsibility.
— Kiley Kroh, Associate Director for Ocean Communications at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.