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Public Statements

Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. DEUTCH. Madam Chairman, a little more than a year ago, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil drilling vessel exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Over several months, millions of gallons of oil were dumped into the gulf. The oil spill caused irreparable damage to delicate ecosystems, damaged natural barriers that protect States along the Gulf of Mexico from deadly storm surge, and was devastating to local jobs and livelihoods along the gulf coast. Indeed, the oil spill caused significant harm to my State of Florida's environment and economy from which we are still recovering.

My amendment will have no impact on the overall bill. While I do oppose weakening the Federal review process of lease applications for energy development, production and exploration of the Gulf of Mexico, the purpose of my amendment is simply to correct an injustice to the residents of Florida and Alabama in the bill as it is written. My amendment would strike section 202, which imposes an exclusive venue in the Fifth Circuit for civil actions relating to the leasing of Federal lands in the Gulf of Mexico for energy development, production and exploration.

Under this provision, litigation relating to leases on energy development can only be filed in a district court in the Fifth Circuit. And while the Fifth Circuit includes the Gulf States of Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, two States that comprise substantial gulf coastlines, Florida and Alabama, are in the 11th Circuit, and it makes no sense that the residents of these States will have to travel to the Fifth Circuit to have their cases heard. The effect of this section would be to prevent the district courts in Florida and Alabama from considering civil cases related to the issuance of leases for energy development, production and exploration off the coastlines of these States.

Congress has no business telling courts within a State that they are prohibited from considering issues involving a lease for energy development, production and exploration that have the potential to cause irreparable environmental and economic damage to the gulf coast area of that State.

In addition, requiring these cases to be moved from Florida and Alabama to a State within the Fifth Circuit will cause substantial hardship for the parties involved in the litigation, substantial hardship for the witnesses who would need to testify, and would result in substantial costs. Striking this exclusive venue provision would ensure that Florida and Alabama courts could hear these cases and reach a just result that reflects the needs of that State.

Section 202 does provide an exception only in cases in which there is no proper venue in a court within the Fifth District. However, this exception fails to address these very serious concerns. The parties involved in litigation on leasing would first have to determine that there is no court within the Fifth Circuit that would be able to consider the case. Only after determining that there was no court in the Fifth Circuit, then the parties will be permitted to file in Florida or Alabama.

In short, section 202 will prohibit the courts in Florida and Alabama from considering and rendering a decision in lawsuits on leases for energy development, production and exploration off their coasts. My amendment would strike the section. It makes no changes to the overall bill. It provides a simple solution to address this bill's unwarranted restrictions on which courts
will be able to review these leases should they pose a threat to the gulf coast area. I urge its adoption.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. DEUTCH. Madam Chair, the gentleman's opposition to this amendment is premised on a very interesting, and I would respectfully suggest dangerous, interpretation of what is our responsibility as Members of this House. The gentleman spoke of the need to have uniformity of decisionmaking. Uniformity of decisionmaking. As I understand the role of the Federal judiciary, the role of our court system is to provide justice. The role is not to ensure that we have the same decision in every court.

My amendment simply says that if you are a judge in the State of Florida or a judge in the State of Alabama, that you are in a position just as well as a judge in Texas or these other Gulf States to make a determination about how the law should be interpreted--the idea that judges have to have a sufficient background, and that if courts throughout the country were able to hear these, we would not be able to reach a logical conclusion.

The fact is we're not asking courts throughout the country to hear these cases, Madam Chairman. We're asking the judges within the States whose coastlines would be dramatically affected and have been affected in the case of spills like the Deepwater Horizon.

Madam Chairman, I would respectfully suggest that if our goal here is to seek justice, then we must seek justice in those courts in the States that have seen the damage.

I ask for the adoption of this amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. DEUTCH. Will the gentleman yield?

Mr. LAMBORN. I yield to the gentleman from Florida.

Mr. DEUTCH. I would like to confirm. Therefore, if the language in the bill were very clear that for cases to be brought affecting the leasing and the exploration of oil in the gulf, that if those cases could be brought in any of the Gulf States, including Florida and Alabama, then the bill's sponsor would not oppose this amendment?

Mr. LAMBORN. Reclaiming my time, I would say that we would have a more legitimate issue to debate. We could go into that. But it's too late, the amendment doesn't say that. And so that's not an option in front of us.

Mr. DEUTCH. So just to confirm, the gentleman's position is that in fact the courts in Florida and Alabama are just as well equipped to hear these cases as are the courts in Texas and the other Gulf States.

Mr. LAMBORN. I would say that those judges certainly would have a closeness to the situation that would be helpful. But the circuit, I believe it's the 11th Circuit, includes a number of other States that are not as situated like Alabama and Florida. So in choosing the Fifth Circuit, all the States there are Gulf Coast States.

Mr. DEUTCH. If the gentleman would yield for one final question, I would also note that while the Natural Resources Committee has acted on this bill, this provision very clearly should have been debated in the Judiciary Committee where all of these issues could have been worked out. It is for that reason, given what we have to work with, that I would again ask for adoption of my amendment, which helps to bring justice and some clarity to what is otherwise a murky provision in this piece of legislation.

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