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Mr. VITTER. Madam President, I come to the floor to recognize a solemn occasion. In two days, on Friday, April 20, it will be the 2-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. I want to pause at this moment of anniversary, 2 years, and offer a few thoughts about what was clearly a very significant episode and challenge for our whole country, but particularly for my State of Louisiana and for the gulf coast.
First of all, I want to start where I think we should always start in discussing and considering this event, and that is the loss of 11 lives. Eleven men were killed in that explosion. Again, we need to pause, reflect, pray, and offer prayerful support to them and their families. Those 11 victims were Donald Clark, Stephen Curtis, Aaron Dale Burkeen, Adam Wiese, Roy Kemp, Jason Anderson, Gordon Jones, Blair Manuel, Dewey Revette, Karl Dale Kleppinger, Jr., and Shane Roshto.
I ask unanimous consent that here on the Senate floor we pause for a few seconds in silent, prayerful thought and consideration of those 11 men and their families.
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Mr. VITTER. Thank you, Madam President. The tragedy, of course, started there with those 11 lives lost and we must never forget that, including as we redouble our efforts to ensure safety in those sorts of drilling environments in the future.
Of course, the second big impact was on the environment, particularly the gulf environment where I live, in Louisiana--4.9 million barrels of oil were discharged during the spill. That was about 50,000 barrels a day, every day for 3 months; 320 miles of Louisiana coastline were oiled. That was a little over half of the total coastline on the gulf that was oiled--600 miles. Over 86,000 square miles of waters were closed to fishing; about 36 percent of Federal waters in the gulf were closed.
We did that on a very aggressive, proactive basis to make sure we avoided any contaminated seafood ever reaching a store shelf, ever reaching a restaurant. The good news is we accomplished that. Through that proactive closing, not a single piece of contaminated seafood ever reached a store shelf or ever reached a restaurant customer. That was quite an accomplishment.
Lots of dead animals were collected--6,800; 6,100 birds and also other sea turtles and dolphins. It was the biggest ever in American history, a huge environmental disaster.
Two years later, as we pause and look at the environmental effect of that, frankly, there is good news and bad news--or at least good news and continuing challenges. The good news is I don't think anyone would have predicted that the gulf would rebound to where it is today. Mother Nature has proved again to be amazingly resilient. That is good news. At the time there were all sorts of pretty dire predictions of huge dead zones covering half the gulf. That has certainly not materialized. So Mother Nature has proved amazingly resilient. But I don't want to trivialize continuing challenges, continuing work. There is continuing environmental work, I understand core projects that are ongoing that are very important. First is the NRDA process, under Federal law, the Natural Resource Damage Assessment. That is the process under Federal law by which all stakeholders help assess the damage to the environment so that the folks guilty of this horrendous incident pay for those damages, pay the State, pay the Federal Government, pay others who will work to restore the environment.
That NRDA process is ongoing. It is a multiyear process. But there is some positive result from that process already. Step one of the process was a settlement with BP for an upfront payment of about $1 billion.
Just today, two specific projects in Louisiana were announced as a direct result of that first--not last but first--upfront payment of $1 billion. There is the Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation Project in Plaquemines Parish. That will create approximately 104 acres of brackish marsh from beneficial use of dredge material. That is being announced today. And the Louisiana Oyster Culture Project--that is the placement of oyster cultch onto about 850 acres of public oyster seed grounds throughout coastal Louisiana. So those projects are the start of that NRDA project coming to fruition.
Then the second important work that is ongoing that involves all of us here in the Senate directly is the need to pass the RESTORE Act through the highway reauthorization bill, the transportation reauthorization bill.
The RESTORE Act language would dedicate 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines related to this disaster to gulf coast restoration. I thank all of my colleagues again for an enormously positive, overwhelmingly positive, bipartisan vote to attach that RESTORE Act language to the Senate highway bill. I urge my House colleagues, including House conservatives, to pass a House version of the highway bill today. That is important for our country, for highway infrastructure, and it is important because it is a vehicle for this RESTORE Act.
A third and final category I want to touch on that is not as positive, frankly, as the environmental rebound is the impact of all of this and the related moratorium on drilling to our economy on the gulf coast and energy production. Immediately after the disaster, very soon thereafter, President Obama announced a complete moratorium on activity in the gulf on new drilling. That moratorium lasted several months. I think that was a bad mistake, an overreaction to the disaster. I think that has been borne out in several ways, including the panel of experts that the President got together. Their report, we now know, was actually doctored and edited at the White House to make it seem like those true experts supported a full moratorium, when we know directly from them that they did not.
This moratorium went in place anyway and it created a lot of additional economic harm and hurt to a lot of gulf coast residents and workers that was unnecessary. Of course we needed to pause and get new procedures and some new safety regulations in place, of course we needed to learn the lessons of the disaster and incorporate those into practices, but we did not need an all-out moratorium for months. And we do not need a continuing slowdown that continues to this day.
An analogy I have often used is when we have a horrible disaster such as an airplane crash, we do not ground every plane for months after such an incident. We allow the industry and that important travel and commercial activity to continue as we immediately learn the lessons of the disaster and incorporate it into safety proceedings.
Well, unfortunately, my point of view did not hold sway at the White House. We had this complete, formal moratorium which lasted into October 2010. But when that formal, complete moratorium was lifted, it didn't just end there. For months and months after that, we had a de facto moratorium, permits which were not happening. There was only a trickle of permits. Now, even though permitting has increased somewhat, we have a dramatic permit slowdown and a slowdown of activity in the gulf. Now more than ever, our country and our citizens cannot afford that. The price at the gas pump is about $4 a gallon. It has more than doubled during President Obama's tenure. We cannot afford this avoidable slowdown and decrease in important domestic energy activity.
Again, a lot of folks around the country don't realize it, but permitting in the gulf is still way below pre-BP levels. It is 40 percent below pre-BP levels. Now, again, we need to learn and we have learned the lessons of the BP disaster. We need to incorporate those into our regulatory policy, and we have. But we cannot afford a permit slowdown of more than 40 percent since before the BP disaster. Because of that and because of other factors, energy production is down on Federal property and all oil production was down about 14 percent in the last year. Federal offshore production is down about 17 percent. So that is some of the most lasting negative economic impact from the disaster. The Obama administration's wrongheaded reaction to it and the lingering policy on energy production is something we cannot afford as the gulf region, we cannot afford as a country, and we can afford less than ever now with the price at the pump.
Again, I hope we do learn the lessons of this disaster. I hope we continue to ensure that those safety and other lessons are built into our regulatory framework and best practices in the industry. I think that has largely been done, and that work continues. I also hope we honor the lifework of those 11 men who lost their lives, who worked hard every day in that industry producing good American energy by not only allowing that work to happen safely but allowing that work to happen and allowing American citizens to benefit from that work.
The United States is the single most energy-rich country in the world, bar none. For instance, we are far richer than any Middle Eastern country, such as Saudi Arabia. The problem is that we are the only country in the world that puts well over 90 percent of those domestic resources off limits and says: No, no, no. No you can't do this, and no you can't touch that.
We need to build a commonsense American energy policy that says: Yes. Yes, we can. Yes, we can do it safely, and, yes, we can provide American energy for American families and the American economy.
I yield the floor.
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