The Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, chaired by U.S. Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (R-NJ), held a hearing today to review the latest investigations into the causes of the BP DEEPWATER HORIZON oil spill and the Coast Guard response to it. The following is Chairman LoBiondo's opening statement:
"The BP DEEPWATER HORIZON oil spill was an unprecedented tragedy. The explosion aboard the DEEPWATER HORIZON tragically claimed the lives of 11 individuals and left a tremendous natural and economic disaster in its wake. The Coast Guard mobilized over 7,500 personnel and 150 assets from throughout the country to respond to the spill. While I am extremely proud of how the Coast Guard handled this incident, it is important that we review what went well, and what could go better in future spills.
"As such, today we will hear testimony on the Joint Investigation Team Report (JIT), the Incident Specific Preparedness Report (ISPR), and the Federal On Scene Coordinator Report. These reports each contain valuable insight into what caused the oil spill and how the federal government responded to it. Among the many findings and recommendations, a few stand out because they appear in nearly every report.
"Nearly all of the reports noted that the Area Contingency Plans (ACP's) were not adequate for a spill of this magnitude and that they must be updated to incorporate protocols for using dispersants and other response technologies, the latest information on environmentally sensitive areas, as well as state and local officials in the planning process. I hope the Coast Guard has made some progress on this issue and look forward to hearing when we can expect all ACPs will be revised.
"I am also concerned with findings indicating that the Coast Guard's oil spill response and marine environmental protection mission has withered over the last decade as a result of an emphasis on homeland security missions. This is in line with the findings of the Inspector General and others which indicate that funding and resource hours dedicated to non-homeland security missions, as well as oil spill response research and development activities have shrunk considerably over the last decade.
"Finally, I am very concerned with the findings that officials at all levels of government were unfamiliar with the National Contingency Plan, our nation's 42 year old blueprint for how to respond to oil spills. But I am particularly alarmed that senior leaders at the Department of Homeland Security were either unaware or simply misunderstood how the plan functions.
"But these concerns speak to a larger issue this Subcommittee has been concerned with since the Coast Guard was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security. And that is, the Department does not understand, nor appreciate the traditional missions of the Coast Guard. While critically important, port security accounts for only 20 percent of what the Coast Guard does on a daily basis. The remaining 80 percent are traditional missions like oil spill response. These missions require the Department's leadership to understand that they need to commit adequate resources and attention, as well as participate fully in training and preparedness activities.
"MODU's like the DEEPWATER HORIZON continue to operate in our waters and will soon begin operations in Cuban waters. Each of these operations, if not properly regulated by the Coast Guard with the support of the department, could potentially cause another catastrophic spill. As such, we cannot afford to sit back and take our time in implementing the lessons learned. I look forward to hearing what the Coast Guard has done to date to implement the recommendations of these reports and when they will complete action on the remaining recommendations."