The Gulf Oil Spill - Legislation
Historically after almost every major environmental disaster Congress has enacted legislation, and the BP oilspill will be no exception. Several issues such as, worker safety, economic and environmental, oil and gas leasing, and maritime liability are the focus of Congressional attention at this time. The incident triggered numerous hearings investigating the causes of the blowout, liability for damages, impacts of the spill, and the administrative process of regulatory requirements regarding health, environmental protection, and safety in deepwater drilling. Congress will continue to evaluate this reorganization and also the adequacy of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953 (OCSLA), the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), and federal maritime laws.
The BP oil spill has raised many questions regarding technological and regulatory changes for deepwater drilling, the way resources will be distributed to ensure the recovery of the Gulf Coast, the overall larger picture of what environmental trade-offs must be taken to meet the country’s energy needs, and the fairness of this country’s maritime laws. On July 31, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3534, the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2010 (CLEAR Act) to boost safety standards for offshore drilling and remove a $75-million liability cap on oil firms for economic damages caused by spills. The bill would also set new standards for blowout preventers, the safety device that allegedly failed on BP’s well in the Gulf, and hit energy producers with a new $2 per barrel tax to fund land purchases for national parks, forests and wildlife refuges. A similar bill, H.R. 5626, the Blowout Prevention Act of 2010, is also being considered by the House. A much more modest bill has been proposed in the Senate. The Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act of 2010 (S. 3663) addresses the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, promotes home energy-efficiency and vehicles powered by natural gas, and boosts funding for oil spill related research and development.
Another bill to watch is H.R. 5503, which was passed by the House on July 1, 2010. Known as the Securing Protections for the Injured from Limitations on Liability Act, it seeks to revise maritime law to allow family members of those killed in maritime accidents to be compensated for non-pecuniary damages, such as pain and suffering and loss of companionship, something which the current law does not allow under the Death on the High Seas Act and the Jones Act. The law would apply retroactively to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and also would amend the bankruptcy law to protect those with tort claims arising out of incident giving rise to liability under OPA.
The Senate has delayed action on all legislation relating to the Gulf oil spill until sometime this Fall.