Success: Oil Spill Bill Moves Forward

The Oil Spill Bill would hold oil companies fully accountable for spills and increase much-needed investments in habitat and land conservation. It's progress is a welcome victory, while we continue to work for urgently needed comprehensive energy legislation.

Sea Turtle in Oil SpillCapitol Hill lawmakers took a key step forward to address needed reforms to respond to the BP oil disaster, including better offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing practices, measures to hold oil companies fully accountable for spills and badly needed investments in habitat and land conservation. The bill, known as the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act, H.R. 3534, passed the U.S. House today.

The bill addresses a wide range of energy issues, including Gulf oil disaster responses, safety provisions, offshore and onshore oil and gas drilling reforms and renewable energy incentives. "This is a good bill and we support it because it includes accountability for the Gulf disaster and will help prevent another offshore drilling tragedy," said Todd Keller, senior manager of Public Lands Campaigns for National Wildlife Federation. "It's a welcome victory, while we continue to work for urgently needed comprehensive energy legislation."

"The BP catastrophe has damaged coastal marshes that simply cannot be cleaned up, but we can put into place large-scale restoration projects that will help return coastal wetlands to a self-sustaining, resilient ecosystem," said Karla Raettig, NWF's National Campaign Director for Coastal Louisiana. "This is an important step to hold BP accountable for its actions along the Gulf Coast -- an area so vital to our nation's economy, wildlife and culture."

Specific provisions supported by the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund include:

  • Authorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million. The Gulf oil disaster vividly illustrates need for the LWCF. In exchange for the environmental risks inherent in developing finite offshore oil resources, Congress is dedicating and reinvesting a portion of revenues to conservation programs across the nation.
  • Establishing a dedicated Gulf Coast restoration fund of up to $1.2 billion into which some of BP’s Clean Water Act penalties could be directed. These investments are from new money and are deficit neutral. Projects will be selected by a task force comprised of Gulf state governors and principals of relevant federal agencies and will receive careful scrutiny and have the endorsement of both state and federal governments.
  • Establishing a Gulf of Mexico restoration, monitoring and research program that will coordinate local, state, and federal resources to restore and study Gulf ecosystem health. Closing a loophole that exempts oil and gas construction projects from Clean Water Act (CWA) stormwater runoff rules, including the roads that service those sites. Oil and gas construction would be required to have stormwater permits.
  • Repealing special categorical exclusions from the oil and gas exploration permitting process. These exclusions allow the oil and gas industry to sidestep much needed and critical environmental review and are used to speed up the process of oil and natural gas drilling. By avoiding the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), industry has caused irreparable harm to critical habitat and wildlife as we have seen firsthand in the Gulf of Mexico. BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling permit was issued under at categorical exclusion.
  • Establishing regional planning that fosters the sustainable and integrated development and use of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources in a manner that protects the health of marine ecosystems. The Ocean Resources, Conservation and Assistance (ORCA) Fund will invest 10 percent of Outer Continental Shelf drilling revenues to protecting and restoring our oceans and Great Lakes. Establishing new procedures for using chemical dispersants to ensure their safety to water quality and the environment, including public disclosure of the ingredients.

All eyes are now on the Senate, where a vote is anticipated early next week. "Americans will be asking, 'Will Senators stand with the people or the polluters?'" said Keller. While there appears to be general agreement that the system for deciding where and how to drill offshore needs substantial reform, the Senate is engaged in a heated debate on how the costs of cleanup and lost revenues should be managed.

National Wildlife Federation Action Fund supports the Senate Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act, S. 3663, which would eliminate the liability cap on economic and natural resource damages. For the fishermen and tourism businesses of the Gulf coast that have lost millions of dollars in income these past 100 days, or the workers who lost their lives or were injured in the explosion, or the volunteers who were sickened by chemical dispersants, the issue of unlimited liability is crucial.

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