Tuesday, January 11, 2011

National Oil Spill Commission Releases Complete Final Report

Jan 11: As promised, the National Oil Spill Commission, established by President Obama on May 22, 2010, to investigate the root causes of the spill and provide recommendations on how to prevent and mitigate the impact of any future spills that result from offshore drilling, released its extensive, 398-page final report. Also available is a document entitled, Recommendation for Decision Makers and a Multimedia Presentation Summarizing the Commission's Report. On January 6, the Commission released in advance, the chapter from the full report that containing the key findings from its extensive investigation into the causes of the blowout of BP's Macondo well [See WIMS 1/6/11]. The Commission is now scheduled to host a New Orleans forum tomorrow for interested members of the public to learn about and discuss the Commission's final report and recommendations for avoiding another spill disaster.
    U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works commented on the final report saying, "The report and recommendations released today underscore the significant safety and environmental risks associated with offshore drilling, and spotlight the systemic lapses that led to the tragic Deepwater Horizon spill. Some steps have already been taken to improve safety, but this report makes clear that more needs to be done to prevent a disaster like this from ever happening again. I am committed to working with my colleagues in the Senate to move forward on legislation that addresses the Commission's recommendations, ensures that oil companies are held accountable, and protects jobs, coastal communities and the environment. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will also hold a hearing with the Oil Spill Commission members in the coming weeks."
   House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) released a statement saying, "Congress needs to ensure that offshore energy production meets the highest safety standards, but as gasoline prices continue to rise we cannot allow ourselves to become increasingly dependent on hostile foreign nations for our energy needs.  Our economic competitiveness, American jobs and our national security are all dependent on getting this right and finding responsible ways to move forward with offshore and onshore American energy production. . . Reforms should accomplish our shared goals of improving safety, allowing drilling to move forward in a timely manner, and putting people back to work. Proposals that prolong the de facto moratorium in the Gulf, cost American jobs, or delay future energy production will be viewed skeptically in both the House and Senate."
    Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), who led a key Congressional investigation into the BP spill last year and co-authored the first legislation to establish an independent spill investigation, said he will introduce legislation reflecting the Commission's recommendations combined with additional legislation which passed the House in August. He said final enactment of that legislation was blocked by Senate Republicans. Rep. Markey said, "Because systemic safety and oversight issues regarding the offshore oil industry persist, if we do not enact reforms, there will likely be repeats of this disaster. The spill commission's independent assessment of America's worst oil spill must lead to reforms, and today's release of the commission's report needs to end the objections that Republican leaders in Washington have raised to legislative action. Some key Republican leaders previously have said that we should wait for the results of this investigation before passing legislation to respond. The results are now in and now it is time for action."
    The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Chaired by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) will hold its first hearing of the new Congress to examine the report and recommendations (including any recommendations for legislative action) issued by the National Commission January 26. The Commission's two co-chairs are expected to testify. In an announcement, Senator Bingaman noted that the Committee unanimously reported a bill in the last Congress (S.3516) that he said would "raise the bar on well safety, blowout prevention, oil spill response and worker training. Such legislation continues to be a top priority."
    The American Petroleum Institute (API) and many environmental organizations reacted to the final report. API said the industry has already taken significant action to further improve safety in offshore operations consistent with the Commission's recommendations. API Upstream Director Erik Milito said the group is still in the process of reviewing the commission's report but is pleased the commission is recommending increased funding for the Federal agency responsible for inspecting and monitoring offshore activity. However, he said "API is deeply concerned that the commission's report casts doubt on an entire industry based on its study of a single incident. This does a great disservice to the thousands of men and women who work in the industry and have the highest personal and professional commitment to safety." 
    A groups of eight non-profit groups called on Congress to heed a key recommendation in the final report from the bipartisan National Commission. The recommendation is that "Congress should dedicate 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties to long-term restoration of the Gulf of Mexico" (see page 280 of report). Last year, U.S. Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and David Vitter (R-LA) and U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) introduced legislation that would require at least 80 percent of the civil and criminal penalties charged to BP under the Clean Water Act to be returned to the Gulf Coast for long-term economic and environmental recovery. However, those bills expired at the end of the lame duck session for the previous Congress last month.
    In a joint statement the groups said, "The oil spill commission recognizes that we cannot compound one tragedy with another. Absent congressional action, Clean Water Act fines automatically will be deposited into the federal treasury. Congress should invest Clean Water Act penalties in the aggressive and comprehensive restoration of the ecosystem, creating thousands of new jobs and providing significant benefits to the commercial fishing and tourism industries, among others, impacted by the spill damage to the ecosystem." The statement was from the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Environmental Defense Fund, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Ocean Conservancy, Oxfam America, and The Nature Conservancy. Many other organizations issued separate statements (See contacts below).
    Access the complete final report or individual chapters and appendices (click here). Access the Commission website for complete background and further information (click here). Access a release from Senator Boxer (click here). Access the complete statement from Rep. Hastings (click here). Access Rep. Markey's complete statement (click here). Access a Committee announcement from Senator Bingaman and link to S.3516 (click here). Access the complete API release (click here). Access the joint statement from the 8 groups (click here). Access statements from: NRDC (click here); Defenders of Wildlife (click here); The Center for Public Integrity (click here); Earthjustice (click here); and Sierra Club (click here).