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Larsen Pushes Need to Protect Oil Spill Prevention and Response From Budget Cuts

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Today, U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (WA-02), Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, co-led an oversight hearing to examine the recommendations from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The Subcommittees received testimony about lessons learned from the spill from U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen (Ret.), former National Incident Commander for the BP spill, and members of the Commission: Dr. Donald F. Boesch and Terry D. Garcia.

"Today's hearing on the BP Oil Spill made it clear that our ability to implement the Commission's recommendations for how to improve our oil spill prevention and response could be seriously jeopardized by the draconian and indiscriminate budgetary cuts that the Republicans are proposing," said Larsen.

"The devastation of the BP Oil Spill reinforced the need to ensure that our policies for offshore drilling are rigorous, safeguard workers, benefit the economy and protect the environment," said Rep. Larsen. "Too many lives are at stake and too many jobs are at risk, for us to fail to move forward with implementing these recommendations."

The full text of Larsen's opening statement follows:

OPENING REMARKS OF U.S. REPRESENTATIVE RICK LARSEN (D-WA)
Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on
Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
Joint Hearing on "Improving Oil Spill Prevention and Response, Restoring
Jobs, and Ensuring our Energy Security: Recommendations from the National
Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling"
February 11, 2011

Mr. Chairman, thank you for conducting this joint subcommittee hearing. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the recommendations of the National Commission on the BP Oil Spill. The message today is clear: undertaking deepwater drilling requires a deeper understanding of the risks that accompany the clear benefits of deepwater drilling.

Now that we have these recommendations in hand, Congress should act to ensure that our policies for offshore drilling are rigorous, safeguard workers, benefit the economy and protect the environment. Too many lives are at stake, and too many jobs are at risk, for the Congress to fail to act. If we cannot tap our offshore resources in a way that protects lives and the environment, there will be pressure to restrict the use of those resources. That would be devastating to the maritime industry, the jobs they support, and our economy as a whole.
We also need to provide Federal agencies with adequate resources to prevent another such tragedy from happening again, and to respond should we have to.
I welcome Admiral Allen to the subcommittees today. I appreciated your willingness to serve the United States as commander of the response effort, even following your retirement. I look forward to hearing your observations and recommendations.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a major human and environmental disaster of potentially unprecedented proportions.
As a representative from the Puget Sound, I understand how devastating an oil spill would be to a coastal region. I want to do everything possible to prevent an oil spills from any sources occurring in my area of the country and other areas of the country.

The oil spill commission report clearly demonstrates that we have a long way to go to prevent similar disasters from occurring again.
Unfortunately, Congress is proposing budget cuts into the muscle and bone of investments needed for economic growth and to protect our environment. If nothing else, the BP spill showed the need for a more robust public capacity to respond quickly and safely to oil spills.
The public depends on federal agencies to ensure the safety of deepwater drilling and the safety of the men and women who work on those platforms. Diminishing this capacity through budget cuts is irresponsible, especially considering the Commission's call for increased investment.
Some of the voices in Washington, D.C. argue that we must reduce or eliminate regulatory burdens. Once again, the BP spill demonstrated that the oil and gas industry was subject to too little regulation, not too much. Improved regulation is necessary both in how BP implemented safety measures during drilling, and in ensuring effective, meaningful response plans once the spill occurred.
No one is suggesting that we eliminate deepwater drilling off our coasts. Given what we now know about the risks of deepwater drilling, we should put the pieces in place to ensure the highest level of safety.
The National Commission's report revealed what many of us expected to learn about the Deepwater Horizon spill.
First, the Federal government's oversight of offshore oil and gas drilling was too lax. Second, that Federal agencies and the oil and gas industry were inadequately prepared to effectively stop, track, contain and clean up a spill of this magnitude.
And third, we learned that the Jones Act -- the law which protects and supports our domestic maritime industry -- was absolutely no hindrance to the Federal government's response to this environmental calamity. And as we will hear later, Admiral Allen concurs entirely with this finding.

I proposed last year during the Committee's May 19th hearing on the spill that the country take a step back to ensure that any future offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico lives up to claims of safety and reliability.

If anything, the National Commission's report only reaffirms my convictions, especially on the following points:

* Future offshore drilling must occur within a transparent and accountable legal framework that clearly assigns responsibility for any spills to the industry.
* Congress must act to raise the liability caps in the Oil Pollution Act.
* The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund must be replenished, and the Fund's fee structure revised to match the increased hazards of deep sea drilling.
* More investments must be made to develop field tested and government certified response and clean-up technologies that more than match the industry's ability to drill in frontier areas.

I look forward to evaluating the Commission's recommendations and expect that our witnesses this morning will provide additional insights on these points, and more.
When the EXXON VALDEZ ran aground on Bligh Reef in Alaska in 1989, Congress responded with the Oil Pollution Act. Now, 22 years later, the BP spill demonstrated the need to amend and strengthen that Act.
I stand ready to work with Chairman LoBiondo and with Chairman Gibbs, with the ranking Democrat member, Congressman Rahall, with Mr. Bishop, and the other members of the Committee in shaping legislation to strengthen our nation's oil spill response and prevention laws.

Mr. Chairman, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill exposed the real risks and costs of energy production on the Outer Continental Shelf. We have before us the opportunity to make a necessary course correction in our production of offshore energy. I urge that we not let the current debate on the Federal budget or regulations deter us from making necessary investments to ensure that offshore drilling can be done safely, efficiently and with minimal harm to the environment.


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