Continuing his response to BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) today introduced H.R. 5863 -- The Oil Pollution Wildlife Protection Act-- that would tighten federal offshore drilling policies by forcing the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and the oil industry to obtain and abide by federal drilling permits in areas where it might harm endangered species or marine mammals.
"The disaster in the Gulf is what happens when companies choose profit over protections," said Polis. "The blatant disregard of our environmental laws by the oil industry was shameful, but the lax enforcement of those laws by our very own government is equally to blame. While we cannot put back the oil, we can put an end to the government-approved evasion of some of our nation's most important environmental laws, and the Oil Pollution Wildlife Protection Act does just that."
Investigations into the Deepwater Horizon disaster, as recently chronicled by the New York Times, have shown that the former Minerals Management Service (MMS) routinely approved drilling projects, including Deepwater Horizon, without seeking permits, which allow drilling where it might harm endangered species or marine mammals, as required under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. Reporting has also shown that MMS routinely edited the professional biological assessments of its staff scientists when they raised concerns regarding the serious environmental impacts of proposed projects and regularly understated the frequency and impact of oil spills and overlooked these issues while highlighting selective safety statistics.
In the case of Deepwater Horizon, thousands of birds, turtles, and countless other endangered marine species have lost their lives as a result of the spill--lives which could have been saved had the proper permitting procedures been followed.
While reform and reorganization of MMS has begun, this issue has not been addressed. Additionally, the current judicial review provision of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act--the law governing offshore oil development--has several central shortcomings that have curtailed its efforts to challenge and highlight MMS's disregard for wildlife permitting.
Specifically, Polis' legislation:
* Increases openness and transparency in drilling on federal lands by requiring notice in the federal register of exploration, development and production plans.
* Ensures permits for Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Magnuson-Stevens Act and others are received by the Department of Interior before oil plans are made.
* Protects endangered marine wildlife by ensuring that the total impact of cumulative oil and gas development is accounted for on marine wildlife populations, in addition to the impact of each individual project.
* Strengthens the public oversight of agency actions and ensures that the proper permits are received by amending the judicial review section of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
"For decades the offshore oil industry has been able to disregard laws already on the books because the American people have been unable to enforce them," said Michael Jasny, Senior Policy Analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which supports the bill. "Rep. Polis' legislation is key to preventing the kind of illegal behavior that has devastated the Gulf environment."