Lame Duck Congress
BP’s Oil Spill Fines Might Not Help the Gulf
Remember that oil spill in the Gulf? Destruction doesn’t take long, but recovery does. The 24-hour news cycle has moved on, but the Gulf is still in disarray and continues to need federal assistance.
There was a flurry of legislative activity in the wake of the oil spill, but not a single bill passed through the Senate. As a result, even simple, no-brainer responses remain stalled. While many contentious oil-response items still deserve passage, others should be able to pass with relative ease and are prime candidates for the current lame duck session.
In addition to BP’s compensatory fund, the company must pay a per-barrel fine for its gratuitously spilled oil. Under current law, that money is paid into the federal treasury instead of funding restoration efforts.
The Obama administration tapped former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to compile a report on how best to enact a long-term Gulf restoration plan. One of the major recommendations in the Mabus Report was to pass a law directing funds from BP’s fines straight to Gulf restoration efforts. Seems simple enough, but even obvious baby steps require prodding in this obstructionist legislative environment.
If you haven’t been looking for it, you probably haven’t seen much oil spill news lately. The holiday season is here, and between manufactured TSA non-scandals and Sarah Palin’s new TV show, it seems there has been far too much “real news” out there to cover the ongoing Deepwater Horizon recovery efforts in the Gulf.
This is not an example of the PR adage “no news is good news,” because the stories are still there if you know where to look. Because coverage has been sparse and buried, we’ve aggregated some recent Gulf restoration stories to keep you up to speed:
- Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updated its “oil budget” of what happened to all the spilled oil. The biggest change was a doubled estimate of how much oil was chemically dispersed into the water. Remember, dispersed oil is less toxic than raw crude, but it is by no means benign.
- Federal investigators are running into some roadblocks as crew members onboard the Deepwater Horizon have refused to testify under oath about what happened.
- Although nearly all of the closed Gulf fisheries were reopened soon after their initial closures following the oil spill, last week over 4,000 square miles of the Gulf were newly closed to deepwater shrimping after a fisherman hauled up tar balls in his net.
- The compensatory fund set up for BP victims is combating fraud, with more than one thousand of the 450,000 claims received raising red flags.
- U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman issued yet another industry-friendly ruling against federal drilling safety efforts. Those who followed his earlier rulings on the deepwater drilling moratoria are not the slightest bit surprised.
- BP has hired a company to produce a feature-length film about Deepwater Horizon. Don’t worry though, they say it will not attempt to exonerate BP or deflect any blame. So why make it? “They are making primarily for an interal audience as an archive of a moments event in the company’s history,” according to a BP spokesman.
- The presidential oil spill commission apparently withheld a damning slide about risky decisions made by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean in its last Congressional hearing. That slide is available here.
With all of this drama, it’s important that we make sure Congress is doing what it can to meet the continuing needs of the region. As of yet, Congress has done next to nothing. Sign this petition by the Environmental Defense Action Fund to urge your U.S. Senators to vote for pending legislation in the next few weeks to make sure BP’s fines help pay to undo the damage they’ve caused.