Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, today sent a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and several committee chairs outlining his vision of a new oil drilling regulatory regime. Grijalva has been investigating oil rig safety since before the Deepwater Horizon spill began April 20, and has sought stricter regulations from his position on the House Natural Resources Committee.
“Oil drilling is a large industry in this country, and the government has a vital stake in making sure it performs in the public interest,” Grijalva writes in the letter. “The era of drilling first and asking questions later must come to an end. This Congress has a chance to renew our national commitment to safe, ethical, responsible energy development by passing legislation that sets overall economic and environmental safety ahead of short-term profits.”
The letter suggests a total of eight initiatives that should be included in any upcoming energy bill, including:
•Removing the oil spill economic liability cap currently included in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.
•Mandating the submission of a comprehensive spill response plan before any future drilling permit is granted.
•Eliminating the use of categorical exclusions at proposed oil drilling sites and mandating a full environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Grijalva urged quick action to institute these and other changes, given the unprecedented scope of the Horizon disaster and the political window of opportunity for major action. “These common-sense changes should have been made long ago, and now that we have an opportunity to pause and reexamine our approach to drilling, the time is right to make sure the economy, environment and livelihoods of the American people never suffer another Deepwater Horizon,” the letter reads. “If we pass a small bill that gives the appearance of addressing oil spill liability without really tackling the systematic problems that led us to this point, we’ll just be back here in another 20 years wondering why we didn’t get it right the last time.”
Grijalva is not new to the issue. In February, before the Horizon disaster, he requested a full investigation of the BP Atlantis rig in the Gulf of Mexico, based on whistleblower allegations of faulty engineering documents. Elizabeth Birnbaum, until recently the head of the Minerals Management Service (MMS), said in recent testimony before the Natural Resources Committee that MMS would not complete its report on Atlantis by the end of May, and no report has been forthcoming in the ensuing weeks.
“Oil rig safety is no longer a sleeper issue, and the longer we dilly-dally, the lower public confidence will sink,” Grijalva said upon sending the letter. “We need to take a hard look at how lax we’ve become and take steps to reverse that trend before the next spill occurs. I call on my Congressional colleagues in both chambers to consider whether the status quo serves the interests of their constituents and take the appropriate and necessary legislative action in short order. Otherwise, we’ll be back here before we know it.”