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Public Statements

Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. POLIS. Mr. Chairman, following last year's BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, one would think that a foundational and critical element of any bill related to offshore deepwater oil drilling would be to improve our safety and environmental safeguards based on the lessons that we learned the hard way from a horrific national tragedy, costing jobs and reducing health and damaging the environment.

While H.R. 1229 does include a provision that states that the Secretary shall not issue a permit without ensuring that the proposed drilling operation meets critical safety system requirements and oil spill response and containment requirements, it fails to make mention of and omits requiring the Secretary to ensure that critical environmental and economic laws are adhered to, a prolific problem leading up to the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Mr. Chairman, for years an ongoing problem in issuing permits for offshore drilling has been the Department of the Interior's failure to follow requirements set out under our Nation's foundational environmental protection laws and fisheries laws. These laws, like the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Magnusson-Stevens Fishery Act, protect wildlife as well as fisheries and beaches that sustain the gulf's fishing and tourism industries.

In the gulf region, the number of jobs dependent on tourism and fishing is five times the number of jobs related to the oil and gas industry.

While reforms within the Obama administration are moving in the right direction, the fact is that this bill, in its current form, leaves out a major chunk of what should be included in any safety or oversight review that we require of the Secretary, and I'm grateful for the rule for allowing a full discussion and vote on this amendment.

Mr. Chairman, a May 2010 New York Times article, entitled, ``U.S. Said to Allow Drilling Without Needed Permits,'' outlines the roots of this problem in detail. The article clearly explains how the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Department of the Interior's drilling permit agency is required to get permits for drilling where it might harm endangered species and marine animals.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is partially responsible for protecting endangered species and marine mammals. It said on repeated occasions that drilling in the gulf does affect these animals. That's simply science. The records show that permits for hundreds of wells, including the BP disaster well itself, were granted without getting the permits required under existing Federal law.

Federal records show that NOAA instructed the minerals agency that continued drilling in the gulf was actually harming wildlife and needed to get permits in compliance with Federal law; but, sadly, those permits were never sought.

With regard to the National Environmental Protection Act, the government has time and time again performed cursory environmental assessments, failed to integrate NEPA analyses with related Federal statutes, and even exempted entire projects from NEPA review, including the Macondo well. In the past, the only way to ensure permits have complied with NEPA has unfortunately been through lawsuits. My amendment would require these assurances from the Secretary before the permit is issued.

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Mr. POLIS. Mr. Chairman, this underlying legislation's very basic safety review provision simply doesn't address the broad swath of problems that need to be addressed by any serious offshore drilling bill. My amendment is a simple way of ensuring that the many shortcomings are at least considered by the Secretary, as articulated in Federal law, and are discussed during this debate.

Unfortunately, this bill does not take into account the lessons our country learned from the terrible BP Deepwater disaster. In addition to accepting my amendment, I certainly hope that the committee will address these problems with even stronger language in any future work it does on this bill or on the issue of offshore drilling in general with regard to safety and the environment.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. POLIS. Mr. Chairman, H.R. 1229 would impose an artificial and arbitrary 30-day deadline, with up to two 15-day extensions, for a total of 60 maximum days for Interior Department action on drilling permit applications. If at the end of the 30- to 60-day period Interior has not acted by approving or disapproving the permit, the permit is ``deemed'' approved automatically even if the environmental and safety review processes haven't been completed. If the Secretary decides that the agency hasn't had enough time to approve the permit, then his only choice is to deny the permit, undoubtedly leading to additional lawsuits from companies.

Mr. Chairman, this legislation doesn't get to the root of the problem. We all know through the numerous hearings last year that one of the fundamental causes of the BP spill was a lack of not only enough inspectors but a lack of inspectors with high levels of expertise and engineering knowledge. You wouldn't referee a game by doing away with the rules because the referee didn't know them; you'd get a better referee.

If the Department isn't going to be given enough resources and expertise to do the job right and on time, the Department shouldn't be forced to do the job too fast. We should be working to make government more efficient and more effective. My amendment addresses the root of this issue by lifting the arbitrary timeline requirements if the Department isn't given the necessary resources it needs to properly process applications expeditiously. I urge a ``yes'' vote on my amendment.

Mr. Chair, instead of taking this opportunity to correct the fundamental problems underlying the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, this bill simply moves to cut any last semblance of oversight or safeguards our country has placed on the inherently risky process of offshore deepwater oil drilling.

H.R. 1229 would impose an artificial and arbitrary 30-day deadline, with up to two 15-day extensions, for a total of 60 days maximum, for Interior Department action on drilling permit applications. If at the end of that 30- to 60-day period Interior has not acted by approving or disapproving the permit, the permit is ``deemed'' approved automatically even if the environmental and safety reviews have not been completed.

This is the exact wrong legislative response to the BP disaster. Rather than acting to make off-shore drilling safer and smarter, the underlying bill would make drilling faster and more reckless. Under this bill, we could actually have less rigorous oversight and review of offshore drilling than we had before the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

By imposing an artificial and arbitrary deadline, the bill heavily biases the permitting process toward approval, placing undue burdens on reviewers to accelerate the process regardless of safety and environmental concerns.

If the Secretary decides that the agency hasn't had enough time to approve the permit, then his only choice is to deny the permit undoubtedly leading to additional lawsuits from companies and the unrelenting onslaught of industry and Republican criticism. This bill is simply a catch 22 for the Department to either risk another disaster, or open up the Department even more to the vitriolic and false claims from industry and the Majority party of being anti-business or anti domestic energy--not that the facts have kept that misinformation from being spread in the past.

Mr. Chair, this legislation doesn't get to the root of the problem. We all know through the numerous hearings last year that one of the fundamental causes of the BP spill was a lack of not only enough inspectors, but a lack of inspectors with high levels of expertise and engineering knowledge. Prior to the spill, the few inspectors the government did have simply had to take the oil companies' word that everything was in order.

I'm sure we all remember when the big five oil companies were caught pointing the finger of blame squarely at BP in a hearing last year, only to have it disclosed moments later that every one of their spill response documents and other application material was not only identical, but included completely inaccurate information, listing for example walruses as a critical species for the Gulf of Mexico and citing as an emergency contact a professor from Florida Atlantic University, who had long since passed away.

We shouldn't have to take a company's word for it when there is so much at stake. We should ensure that the watchdogs have the tools they need to verify that everything is done properly. This is what my amendment aims to do. Congress shouldn't set an arbitrary timeline if Congress doesn't give the Department enough resources they need to properly do their job within that timeline.

In fact, the recommendations of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon spill contain an entire section on ``The Need for Adequate Funding for Safety Oversight and Environmental Review,'' which lists a number of policy options letting the oil companies, not the American people, foot the bill. Sadly, the underlying legislation includes none of them.

Mr. Chair, you wouldn't referee a game by doing away with the rules because the referee didn't know them; you'd get a better referee.

The fact is that the regulators been grossly underfunded and understaffed in the past. With the Continuing Resolution's partial step toward reversing the ``shameful'' and years-long underfunding of offshore oversight, it was only half of what's needed to do the job right. The Director of the agency that oversees permitting, Michael Bromwich, just last month said: ``That is less than we need, but it is a significant sum, especially in a constrained budget environment where the funding of most other agencies is being cut. We desperately need more environmental scientists and more personnel to do environmental analysis. We desperately need more personnel to help us with the permitting process and much more.''

If the Department isn't going to be given enough resources and expertise to do the job right, then the Department shouldn't be forced to do the job fast. Instead of creating unnecessary catch 22's for government, we should be working to make government more efficient and more effective. My amendment addresses the root of this issue by lifting the arbitrary timeline requirements if the Department isn't given the necessary resources it needs to properly process applications.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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