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In the two years since a BP Plc (BP/) well blowout set off the worst U.S. offshore oil spill, Congress has failed to make drillers more accountable, according to members of the panel that studied the disaster.
Lawmakers earned a “D” from members of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill for not enacting safe-drilling legislation, according to a report yesterday. President Barack Obama created the panel after the April 20, 2010, blast that killed 11 workers, sank the rig and spewed 4.9 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.
Congressional Republicans fault the Obama administration for slowing the issue of drilling permits and delaying exploration off Alaska’s coast, a U.S. offshore prospect that may have the second-biggest reservoir after the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental groups say it’s premature to drill in the Arctic until the administration, Congress and industry enact measures to deal with the region’s demanding conditions.
“Although the administration and industry have made significant progress, Congress has not,” Democrat Bob Graham, former commission co-chairman, said in a statement. “Across the board, we are disappointed with Congress’s lack of action. Two years have passed since the explosion” and “Congress has yet to enact one piece of legislation to make drilling safer.”
The commissioners offered recommendations on safety and environmental protection, spill response, restoration, ensuring adequate resources and drilling in the Arctic. The members gave the administration a “B” grade and industry a “C-plus.”
William Reilly, a former Republican administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the panel’s co-chairman, said two companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico have equipment to cap a gushing well. In 2010, none had the capability.
“We are encouraged by the progress being made, particularly by the Department of Interior and industry, in adopting our recommendations,” Reilly said in a statement. “Significant progress has also been made in industry’s ability to respond to spills that do occur.”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, speaking on a conference call with reporters from Brasilia at the end of tour in Brazil, said it “inexcusable” that after two years Congress hasn’t acted. The commission issued its final report in January 2011.
“We understand some of the commission’s frustration with Congress, and share its desire to ensure safe and responsible energy production,” Senators Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, and Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, said in an statement.
Disagreement in the Senate on sharing revenue from royalties paid by drillers stalled action on the safety bill, the lawmakers said. Landrieu and Murkowski said their states needed a share of the revenue to develop and maintain emergency- response capabilities.
In Congress last year, the House passed legislation with changes endorsed by the commission, a measure that stalled in the Senate. This year, neither house has acted on measures to advance the panel’s recommendations, according to the report.
The Republican-controlled House passed three bills that would weaken the review of offshore leases and “actually run contrary to what the commission concluded was essential for safe, prudent, responsible development of offshore oil resources,” according to yesterday’s report.
A month after the spill, Obama replaced the Minerals Management Service, faulted for lax regulation of offshore drilling, with three offices to oversee leases, drilling safety and fee collection. Congress has yet to pass a measure making the administrative changes in the department’s structure.
Congress also has failed to create an industry fee to fund regulatory operations or to raise the liability cap for offshore drillers from $75 million, a limit set more than 20 years ago, according to the report.
“To ensure all agencies with responsibilities have adequate resources, the commission recommended that the offshore drilling industry bear the costs associated with leasing and permitting review,” the report said. “Congress did approve an increase in inspection fees, but has no legislation pending to establish a more robust, dedicated funding source.”
The former members, who said they weren’t “satisfied with just issuing a report,” received support from the Walton Family Foundation in Bentonville, Arkansas, to monitor action on the panel’s recommendations. The group of seven former commissioners hired a person to help with tasks, according to their statement.
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