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In Testimony, Senator Hopes Congress Has Appetite For Tougher Regulation Of Oil Industry

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Unknown

Following is an advance copy of Nelson's prepared testimony for the EPW committee:

Madame Chairman, it is unfortunate that I am here today - because it means one of my worst nightmares might be coming true.

If the underwater gusher in the Gulf of Mexico continues unabated, oil from the growing slick is going to cover up much of the Gulf coast.

At some point it's going to get into the loop current. And that's going to take it down to the Florida Keys and up the east coast of Florida.

We're talking about massive economic loss to our tourism, our beaches, our fisheries, and very possibly the disruption of our country's military testing and training in the eastern Gulf.

Madame Chairman, I want to commend you for your leadership over the years on many environmental issues. I thank you for calling this hearing today to begin examining the economic and environmental impacts of the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

I also thank you for your support of new legislation that would increase the current cap on liability on these kinds of accidents.

Thank you, as well, for calling me and inviting me to come and talk about this issue. In a minute you also will hear from Keith Overton, chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association who will share his concerns about the fate of tourism in Florida.

To the ranking minority member, I want to thank him for his support, too, and acknowledge my friends on both sides of the aisle.

I'm very grateful for the opportunity to testify - and, for the chance to work with the members on meaningful reforms in the wake of this crisis.

The American people expect Congress to make sure something like this doesn't happen again.

Madame Chairman, I want to begin by recalling something that Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman said back in 1986.

He said that when it comes to reliance on modern technology, "Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

Judging by recent events in the Gulf, this is more true today than ever.

You're going to have accidents because the oil industry's technology cannot live up to the claims of its lobbyists and its public relations machine.

Throw in the fact that regulators have long taken a lax attitude and have had an incestuous relationship while overseeing the industry's operations -- and you have a recipe for catastrophe.

The failure of the Deepwater Horizon test well in the Gulf is just that - a catastrophe. But, hopefully, it will also be something from which we gain wisdom.

We still don't know how bad it will be, but some scientists say the Gulf loop currents could take this oil to the Florida Keys, and then hugging the southeast Florida coast and all the way to North Carolina.

On the economic side, BP's CEO Tony Hayward acknowledged in a meeting I had with him last week that the environmental and economic damages will exceed the current $75-million cap on liability for drilling accidents. This is why I've joined with Sens. Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg to introduce legislation to raise that cap to $10 billion.

That's a lot of money. But let's remember BP just reported a profit of $5.5 billion in just the last three months.

I've also filed legislation calling for moratoria on offshore oil exploration and test wells. In a nutshell: no drilling in new areas; and no exploratory drilling anywhere, pending the outcome of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's investigation into the cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

Common sense tells us we will continue offshore production in the Gulf in areas where drilling currently is permitted. But the scope of this crisis should prompt the President and all members of Congress to re-examine Big Oil's safety claims.

Over the last four decades, I've fought the industry's immensely powerful lobby in Washington to keep oil rigs away from Florida and other coastal states. I've argued that a big spill could harm Florida's tourism-driven economy and unique environment, but drilling activities would interfere with the country's last major military testing and training range in the eastern Gulf.

But Big Oil usually gets its way. In Congress, we could never get to first base, because Big Oil would flex its muscles and call in its votes - and, we could never get anything done.

For the past several years, they've been trying to bully their way to drill off the coast of Florida. They even had the leaders of the Florida Legislature ready to let them drill just three miles off the coast in waters under state control.

And Big Oil appears to have had a cozy relationship regulators, which is why I've asked for an inspector general's investigation; and, why two years ago I filed another bill that would toughen ethics rules. That was after news stories came out about sex parties and all kinds of trips regulators took with lobbyists. But the bill stalled. I would hope that members will take another look at it.

Maybe this disastrous spill will finally convince enough members of Congress to clamp down.
Cleary we're going to have to require that drilling rigs and production platforms have reliable backup systems. Right now they are sorely lacking. Why else would BP be scrambling for any solutions to reign in or stop the gushing crude. I wouldn't call injecting junk into the blowout preventer -- like, golf balls and tires - to be a reliable backup system.
Still, whether we toughen regulations or whether offshore drilling ever becomes safer, there remains a nagging question that hasn't been answered.

Secretary Salazar's own statistics show that of the undiscovered oil in the Gulf, more than 90 percent of it is in the central and western Gulf. And less than 10 percent of it is in the eastern Gulf close to Florida.

And so, in my meeting with Mr. Hayward last week, I asked him: why is it worth the trade-off to Florida's economy and our country's military testing and training range, that you should drill in a place where there's only 10 percent of the oil. And I asked: what ever happened to Sutton's law - named after the bank robber Willie Sutton? He was the one who replied to a reporter's inquiry by saying he robbed banks because -- that's where the money was.

Well, I don't think Mr. Hayward had an answer for that.

That's because there is no logical answer. There isn't enough oil off the eastern Gulf -- or most of the Atlantic seaboard, for that matter - to justify the enormous risks from a blowout, a spill or a shipping accident.

Now, on the broader energy issue, America must lessen its reliance on foreign oil. But there's no need to expand drilling into new areas. Oil and gas companies now have some 31 million acres under lease in the Gulf where they haven't even started drilling yet.

Madam Chairman, members of the committee, I believe the ultimate answer to America's energy needs lies not in oil, but in alternative fuels and new energy technologies.

And I think we can help pay for an accelerated national energy program by ending the billions of dollars in giveaways to the oil industry; by making sure it pays all its taxes and royalties.

Thank you very much.


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