Jul 30, 2010 7:14 PM by Melissa Canone
WASHINGTON (AP) - The House approved a bill Friday to boost
safety standards for offshore drilling, remove a federal cap on
economic liability for oil spills and impose new fees on oil and
Democratic leaders hailed the bill as a comprehensive response
to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and said it would increase drilling
safety and crack down on oil companies such as BP. Companies with
significant workplace safety or environmental violations over the
preceding seven years would be banned from new offshore drilling
Republicans and some-oil state Democrats opposed the measure,
calling it a federal power grab that would raise energy prices and
kill thousands of American jobs because of the new fees and
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the bill's main sponsor, said the
legislation would be a tribute to the 11 oil rig workers who were
killed when the BP well exploded in April by creating strong new
safety standards for offshore drilling, ending the revolving door
between government regulators and industry and holding BP and other
oil companies accountable for accidents.
"While we may not know the exact cause of the incident, we
clearly know what contributed to it. A culture of cozy
relationships that had regulators interviewing for jobs on the same
rigs they were supposed to be inspecting," said Rahall, who is
chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
The legislation, which passed 209-193, has yet to be taken up in
the Senate, where partisan disagreements will likely delay final
consideration of a joint House-Senate bill until after the August
The House bill would remove the current $75 million cap on
economic damages to be paid by oil companies after major spills and
increases to $300 million the financial responsibility offshore
operators must demonstrate in most cases. And it would create new
"conservation" fees on oil and natural gas extracted from land or
water controlled by the federal government.
Those provisions prompted sharp criticism from Republicans.
"In typical Democrat fashion, this bill overtaxes,
over-regulates, and costs American jobs," said Rep. John Mica,
Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state, the top Republican on the
House Natural Resources Committee, said removing the liability cap
could devastate small and medium-sized drillers.
Hastings called the new fees on oil and gas production a "$22
billion energy tax" that would cost jobs and raise energy prices.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the $2 per barrel
fee on oil and a similar fee on natural gas could bring in $22.5
billion over the next decade.
Earlier Friday, the House approved a separate bill to extend
whistleblower protections to oil and gas workers who report
hazardous conditions or other problems. The whistleblower bill will
be added to the oil spill legislation when it is sent to the
"A whistleblower may be the only thing standing between a safe
workplace and a catastrophe," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.,
the bill's sponsor. "No worker should ever have to choose between
his life and his livelihood."
Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., said the bill setting new drilling
standards and removing the liability cap was the least Congress
could do to respond to such a major catastrophe.
Rahall said the legislation would end a
"trust-but-don't-verify" attitude about safety where drilling
plans were rubber stamped by federal regulators and industry often
wrote its own rules.
The bill would put into law actions already taken by the Obama
administration to break Interior's former Minerals Management
Service into three parts, separating safety enforcement and
regulation from economic activities such as issuing oil leases and
Since the BP spill the agency has been renamed the Bureau of
Ocean Energy Management, Enforcement and Regulation, and a new
director, Michael Bromwich, has been appointed.
The American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, said
the House bill would kill jobs, threaten the economic recovery and
place the nation's energy security at risk. The National Wildlife
Federation and other environmental groups said the bill would help
prevent another offshore drilling tragedy.