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Posted at 03:29 PM ET, 04/20/2011

A year out from BP oil spill, parties still sparring over drilling, response to tragedy

One year after the worst oil spill in the country’s history, lawmakers are still wrangling over off-shore drilling, the liability cap for spill-related damages and the Obama administration’s response to the incident, which left 11 dead and leaked 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

On Wednesday, there was plenty of criticism to go around – much of which was directed by lawmakers at Washington itself.

Several Republicans faulted the Obama administration’s response to the spill, accusing the White House of using the tragedy to wage an “assault on off-shore drilling.”

“One year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, coastal communities are still dealing with the damage from the disaster,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in a statement. “This damage is not limited to just the tar balls that wash up on shore or the stigma many consumers still have for Gulf seafood, but also the real and harsh effects the Administration’s subsequent assault on off-shore drilling has had on economically vulnerable communities. ... The legacy of this spill should be an increased emphasis on safety, not a full-scale retreat from off-shore energy production.”

A CNN poll released Tuesday showed that public support of drilling has rebounded in the year since the spill, with 69 percent of respondents now favoring increased offshore drilling, up from 49 percent last June.

Other Republicans on Wednesday faulted the work of the $20 billion Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which has come under fire for a claims process that some say has been slow and uneven.

“Over the past year, some Floridians have been able to bounce back, but many business owners and employees throughout the region have struggled to regain their footing, particularly in the tourism and fishing industries,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a statement. “Many small businesses have had to lay off workers, while others have sadly had to close their operations entirely. To add insult to injury, far too many of these entrepreneurial, hard-working Floridians are still waiting for the financial restitution promised to them. They deserve better.”

Some Democrats, meanwhile, pointed the finger at Congress, arguing that few pieces of legislation related to the oil spill have made their way through both chambers in the wake of the spill. In an appearance on ABC’s “Topline” webcast, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a senior member of the House subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, said that Congress has “absolutely not” made any progress on oversight measures that could prevent another disaster such as the one that happened a year ago.

“It’s a year later; we are exactly where we were, other than the public understands more clearly how reckless and what the negligence was that got us there,” Woolsey said. “But are we preventing it? Do we have better programs in place for mitigation and cleanup? No, we don’t, but we could.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement blasting the lack of action by the Senate in the year since the spill.

“Last year, under Democratic leadership, the House passed the SPILL Act, amending the Death on the High Seas Act to ensure fair compensation for the families of those killed or injured in the BP spill,” Pelosi said. “We also passed legislation to give subpoena power to the President’s oil spill commission. Unfortunately, only one measure was able to clear the Senate’s 60-vote hurdle: legislation to permit the Coast Guard to obtain needed resources from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to help with clean-up costs.”

There also remains the question of the oil-spill liability cap, which remains unchanged at $75 million one year after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who has sponsored legislation that would completely eliminate the liability cap, issued a statement Wednesday renewing his call for doing away with the $75-million limit, as did another outspoken BP critic, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

“Instead of litigating away their culpability under the law, BP should be mitigating the damage to the people and environment of the Gulf, which continues to be under siege from their spill,” Markey said in a statement.

Efforts to eliminate the liability cap have been met with bipartisan opposition, however, from lawmakers who worry that doing so would have an adverse effect on the economy.

For more on the spill’s one-year anniversary, read The Post’s Joel Achenbach, who is out with a new book on the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

More reactions to the one-year anniversary of the spill:

President Obama:

“One year ago today, the Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded, killing eleven men and ultimately releasing an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. That catastrophic event deeply affected the lives of millions of Americans, from local fishermen to restaurant and hotel owners and small businesses throughout the region. From the beginning, my administration brought every available resource to bear, amassing the largest oil spill response in our nation’s history. At the height of the response, approximately 48,000 men and women worked tirelessly to mitigate the worst impacts of the spill. While we’ve made significant progress, the job isn’t done. “

“Nearly 2,000 responders are actively working in the Gulf to aid in the ongoing recovery efforts. We continue to hold BP and other responsible parties fully accountable for the damage they’ve done and the painful losses that they’ve caused. We’re monitoring seafood to ensure its continued safety and implementing aggressive new reforms for offshore oil production in the Gulf so that we can safely and responsibly expand development of our own energy resources. And EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is leading a task force to coordinate the long-term restoration effort based on input from local scientists, experts, and citizens.”

“The events that unfolded on April 20, 2010 and the oil spill that followed underscores the critical link between the environment and economic health of the Gulf. My Administration is committed to doing whatever is necessary to protect and restore the Gulf Coast. Today, we remember the eleven lives lost as a result of this tragic event and thank the thousands of responders who worked to mitigate this disaster. But we also keep a watchful eye on the continuing and important work required to ensure that the Gulf Coast recovers stronger than before.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.):

“The damage of BP’s devastating oil spill will be felt for years to come. For the families of the 11 workers killed in the explosion, no policy change or business decision can replace lost loved ones. Some of the other scars of that spill will be visible — in the water and wildlife and throughout the environment. But we also will endure economic pain — in the efforts of small businesses and communities to rebuild.”

“These environmental and economic impacts remind us of one of the most important lessons from this tragedy: the United States must reduce our dependence on oil.”

“We must invest more quickly and more significantly in job-creating American clean energy projects that will strengthen our economy, environment and national security, as well as setting long-term policies to promote clean alternatives to oil. At this critical time in the recover of our economy, we cannot afford to keep giving huge tax breaks to big oil companies that even some of their executives have admitted they don’t need.”

“During our Congressional delegation’s week-long trip to China, I am looking forward to learning more about how the Chinese are successfully investing in renewable energy, to see what we can do most effectively in the United States to encourage rapid investment in this important sector of our economy. Our nation has vast renewable energy resources, especially in states like Nevada, that can solve our environmental, economic and national security problems but only if we don’t make the mistakes of the past and choose instead to move forward to a clean energy future.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):

“Last year’s tragedy was an extraordinary disaster that continues to hurt the Gulf Coast economy and livelihoods of its residents. Over the past year, some Floridians have been able to bounce back, but many business owners and employees throughout the region have struggled to regain their footing, particularly in the tourism and fishing industries. Many small businesses have had to lay off workers, while others have sadly had to close their operations entirely. To add insult to injury, far too many of these entrepreneurial, hard-working Floridians are still waiting for the financial restitution promised to them. They deserve better.”

“The Gulf Coast will recover from last year’s disaster, but it will require our continued involvement. I will continue working with my Senate colleagues, particularly those representing the Gulf Coast states, on legislative solutions to address the challenges residents are still facing today.”

“I also believe there is no substitute for seeing the impact firsthand and hearing directly from the residents whose lives have been changed by the spill. To that end, I have asked the Senate’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee to hold a field hearing in Pensacola as soon as possible to assess the efforts of the short-term recovery effort, evaluate what is needed for the Gulf’s long-term recovery and identify areas where we can best assist those worst impacted by the largest environmental disaster in the history of this country.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.):

“One year ago, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in a tragic loss of life and an environmental disaster. In the aftermath of that catastrophe, we made a commitment to America’s families and businesses: to rebuild the Gulf Coast and make local families whole, and to help ensure that a spill of this size and scope never happens again.”

“Last year, under Democratic leadership, the House passed the SPILL Act, amending the Death on the High Seas Act to ensure fair compensation for the families of those killed or injured in the BP spill. We also passed legislation to give subpoena power to the President’s oil spill commission. Unfortunately, only one measure was able to clear the Senate’s 60-vote hurdle: legislation to permit the Coast Guard to obtain needed resources from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to help with clean-up costs.”

“We still need to enact major reforms, like those in the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act that passed the House last year. Republicans in the House should consider these reforms along with several other recommendations from the BP Oil Spill Commission for what should be a bipartisan goal: more effective prevention and response to oil spills, protection of our coastal communities and waters, and holding responsible parties accountable in the event of any future spills. We need to continue to work so that domestic oil production, at its highest level since 2003, is responsible.”

“On the anniversary of the BP oil spill, we recommit to reforming the current system to prevent future spills, and to ensuring a full recovery for the Gulf Coast.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.):

“One year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, coastal communities are still dealing with the damage from the disaster. This damage is not limited to just the tar balls that wash up on shore or the stigma many consumers still have for Gulf seafood, but also the real and harsh effects the Administration’s subsequent assault on off-shore drilling has had on economically vulnerable communities. This retreat from efforts to achieve energy independence from foreign oil isn’t appreciated by Gulf communities whose local economies depend on off-shore oil production or millions of Americans who find themselves paying $4 gallon for gasoline. The legacy of this spill should be an increased emphasis on safety, not a full-scale retreat from off-shore energy production.”

By  |  03:29 PM ET, 04/20/2011

 
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