Some call the U.S. Senate "the place good ideas go to die." Those of us that live and breathe energy policy have already witnessed the death of the climate bill this year. Now, we are sitting at the bedside of the Senate's oil spill response bill. And in spite of what the President called the worst environmental disaster in US history, the "Spill Bill" is on life support as Congress winds to a close.
In the wake of BP's unparalleled Gulf of Mexico disaster some lawmakers recognized the urgent need to overhaul offshore drilling regulations. In July, the House of Representatives passed a bill to tighten safety requirements and make companies pay for damages. Since then, all eyes have been on the Senate to reciprocate. Yet seven months after the blowout, with just a few weeks left in this Congress, we are still waiting.
There is no shortage of facts about the perils of offshore drilling. At a recent government hearing, experts described standard safety tests using words like "imperfect," "subjective," and "anything but clear." Many steps in the drilling process provide opportunities for human and technical error, and some cannot be identified until it is too late. Oceana has called for a ban on offshore drilling; at the very least, safety regulations and oversight of existing drilling operations must be strengthened, and this bill would do just that.
We can't afford another mistake. We know how difficult and expensive it is to clean toxic crude oil from our oceans, beaches, marshes and wildlife, and we've seen the human tragedies: the loss of life and the loss of livelihoods for those who make their living in the fishing and tourism industries. To this day, crews continue to sift tar balls from the sand of Gulf beaches, and reports continue to roll in about the impacts on Gulf seafood. Yet existing law would allow companies to walk away from damages that exceed $75 million per spill, a paltry amount for the richest oil companies. Oil companies should be financially responsible for 100 percent of the destruction they cause, and the suffering Senate bill would make that so.
Remember how there was no way to fight against the torrent of oil billowing up from the seafloor? They tried in-situ burns, "top kills," "junk shots," toxic dispersants -- but none of these methods could stem the flow. Then there was the trusty underwater nuclear explosion idea, which we can hope will never resurface.
As long as we continue to drill offshore, oil will contaminate valuable marine resources. The singular foolproof method of oil spill prevention is a ban on offshore drilling. However, at the very least, the US Senate must pass legislation to respond to the biggest environmental disaster our country has ever seen, and time is running out. Tell your Senators not to let this good idea die. We need to pass the Spill Bill, stat.
Jackie Savitz is Oceana's senior campaign director for pollution and climate change.