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Yesterday, two U.S. Senate committees approved bills designed to reduce oil spill danger in the future. They were the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. These two bills will now go to the full Senate and perhaps be merged into more general legislation.

Also, several House committees have started discussion legislation that responds to the BP spill although votes may be a few weeks in the future.

Energy and Natural Resources Committee Bill

The bill would:

  • Increase criminal and civil penalties for a spill;
  • Impose more redundancy in safety equipment;
  • Impose stricter requirements for drilling permits; and
  • Charge a fee to oil companies to pay for more federal inspectors.

At first glance, it might seem that the desire for increased regulation of off-shore drilling is universal and undisputed. But disagreement is inherent in government and no issue is as simple as it first seems. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, is concerned about her state’s economy being harmed by reduced drilling. She said she voted “reluctantly” yesterday for this bill, not wanting to put too many of her constituents out of work.

On the other hand, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., opposes all offshore drilling and he also voted for it reluctantly on the grounds that it was too weak and should have given the federal government even more power.

One thing to keep in mind in this whole oil spill situation is that the Gulf of Mexico has several dozen other oil rigs where drilling is being done by other countries. Shutting down drilling by BP or U.S. companies will not affect the other countries – on the contrary, it will enable them to ramp up their activities, possibly putting Louisiana’s coastline in greater danger.

Environment and Public Works Committee Bill

This bill would:

  • Remove the $75 million cap on an oil company’s economic liability in the event of an oil spill; and
  • By demanding a more detailed and specific spill response plan, would make it harder to get approval for offshore drilling.

Disagreement over this bill came from Sen. James Inhofe, R-OK and Sen. David Vitter, R-LA. They fear that by vastly increasing oil drilling costs and liability, it would discourage most companies from doing any drilling. Referring to the tougher requirements and open-ended liability, Vitter said:

  • “It’s going to be a permanent moratorium on drilling”.

Presumably, that would please Menendez, but it would put Landrieu’s job in jeopardy. Please see our page on the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill for more on this whole situation.

If you have been harmed by this BP oil spill and would like to know more about your legal position and options, please contact our Mobile, Alabama law office for a free case review.

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