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May 20th, 2010
Grijalva Introduces Bill to Eliminate Liability Caps for Oil Spills Alongside New Letter to Secretary Salazar on Oil Rig Safety

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva sent a letter earlier today signed by 25 other Members of Congress to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking the Minerals Management Service (MMS) to interview several key personnel involved with the BP Atlantis oil rig, which has been accused of operating without important safety documents. In light of the potential cost to taxpayers of the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Grijalva also introduced a bill, H.R. 5355, that would retroactively remove all liability caps for corporations responsible for offshore oil spills.

“This spill, and the potential for another disaster at the Atlantis rig, demand more than just a few hearings and a slap on the wrist,” said Grijalva, who chairs the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. “A lesson needs to be learned this time. The law needs to be changed immediately, and the comfortable relationship between MMS and the oil industry needs to end. The agency must remember its responsibility to protect the environment and the public from potential risks.”

Grijalva has actively sought information on oil rig safety since well before the Deepwater Horizon spill, writing a Feb. 24 letter to Salazar and other federal officials calling for an MMS investigation of why BP, the owner of Atlantis, was allegedly allowed to operate the rig without 90 percent of its subsea construction documents approved by an engineer. After the spill, Grijalva called for stricter MMS scrutiny of new drilling proposals in a May 13 letter to Salazar asking why MMS has granted more than 20 so-called categorical exclusions for other rig proposals. Categorical exclusions circumvent the need for an environmental impact statement before a rig is constructed – without one, there is little publicly available information about a rig’s potential environmental hazards.

“This spill is only a surprise to those who weren’t paying attention,” Grijalva said. “It shouldn’t take another spill for the regulatory and corporate communities to wake up to the reality of the situation. Our rules aren’t effective, our rigs aren’t necessarily safe, and we can’t keep ignoring the problem hoping it’ll solve itself.”

MMS is still conducting its investigation of Atlantis’ safety and has said it will conclude its work by the end of the month.

In a May 20 op-ed in Roll Call, Grijalva called it lawmakers’ “obligation to declare that the promises on which the drilling policy is based were hollow. Those who cautioned against expanded drilling were absolutely, 100 percent right.”

Anyone interested in following the public correspondence between Grijalva and federal officials on oil rig safety can review it at the oversight portion of Grijalva’s Web site.

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