State of the Union/State of the Gulf

January 27th, 2011 | Uncategorized |

(originally posted on the RACblog)

(photo courtesy UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg)

Clean energy was a primary focus of Tuesday’s State of the Union, but the President failed to mention the oil spill disaster (Aaron Viles at Gulf Restoration Network does a great job explaining why this is omission was a mistake). Still, it’s been a big week in Washington for Gulf Coast advocates, as the co-chairs of the Oil Spill Commission came to Congress calling for key reforms to the offshore oil industry and protections for the future of the Gulf Coast.

Former Senator Bob Graham and former EPA Commissioner Bill Reilly forcefully defended the Commission’s report, released earlier this month, to key House and Senate committees. Their report slams both industry and government for the failures that enabled the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but also asserts that, with reforms, fossil fuel production can continue safely.

Graham and Reilly summarized their testimony in an op-ed, “Due diligence for offshore drilling,” recommending creation of an independent agency to oversee offshore drilling safety, separating safety and oversight from the royalties collection process that has deeply corrupted this agency in the past; increasing the liability cap on oil companies so taxpayers are never on the hook for a driller’s mistakes; dedicated funding for Gulf Coast restoration; and more attention and funding for oil spill response planning.Many in Congress are responding: just as Graham and Reilly made their way to the House of Representatives, five top Democrats introduced legislation to reorganize the agencies that oversee offshore drilling, lift the liability cap, and dedicate serious funding to Gulf restoration. The new legislation builds on the spill bill passed in the House last year and is, in the words of Ed Markey (D-MA), about turning the “lessons of the BP oil spill into the laws that will ensure this type of disater does not happen again in American waters.”

In responding to the spill, the flip side of oil industry reform is the equally necessary focus on Gulf Coast restoration. On this front, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) introduced legislation on the first day of the new Congress, with strong support from the Louisiana delegation. The bill calls for ensuring that fines assessed to BP go to Gulf States for coastal and ecosystem restoration, a goal that is widely supported by our allies across the region.

As the President said on Tuesday, any bill that hopes to become law in this Congress must enjoy bipartisan support; the trick now is to marry the best aspects of both proposals into legislation that can attract strong support from across and beyond the Gulf Coast. The Deepwater Horizon disaster exposed the need for fundamental changes to the way Big Oil does business, and for increased attention to the complex environment and economy of our nation’s Gulf Coast, and Congress can and must respond to both needs.

The Oil Spill Commission report demands that we work toward reforms needed to ensure that such a disaster can never happen again – in the Gulf, off the coast of Alaska, or anywhere else in our nation – and ensure that the ecosystems and economies across the Gulf Coast are made whole and even strengthened from the lessons learned from Deepwater Horizon. Let’s hope that in next year’s State of the Union, the President can say that the state of the Gulf Coast and the state of our energy industry have been strengthened by the actions of Congress and the voices of millions of Americans calling for a cleaner and safer energy and environmental future.