Spill panel slams Congress over inaction on safety

Apr 17, 2012, 5:35 PM

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – A presidential commission that investigated the Gulf oil spill blasted Congress for inaction Tuesday as it issued a report card on industry and government response to the massive BP oil spill.

“Across the board, we are disappointed with Congress’s lack of action. Two years have passed since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon killed 11 workers, and Congress has yet to enact one piece of legislation to make drilling safer,” said former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat who co-chaired the presidential commission.

Congress earned a “D” from the seven former commissioners, who have reunited to press for action to improve drilling safety. The group said Congress has provided neither leadership nor financial support for safety improvement efforts.

Congress’s failure to act stands in contrast to both the Obama administration and the oil industry, which have both made important safety advances, Graham and other commissioners said. The administration received a “B” grade while the oil industry received a “C-plus.”

The Interior Department, which oversees offshore drilling, has taken a series of steps to improve safety and environmental protection, the group said, including separating leasing and environmental review functions from regulatory oversight.

Industry also has made improvements, including installation of capping stacks in the Gulf of Mexico that can be used if an underwater well experiences a blowout. When the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred in April 2010, there were no capping stacks in place.

William K. Reilly, a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and a co-chair of the presidential commission, said he was encouraged by progress being made by the Interior Department and the oil industry, including BP.

“In every way they have significantly improved their game” since the spill, Reilly said in an interview, calling the London-based company “newly attentive to operational safety” under U.S-born CEO Bob Dudley.

“They are a transforming company,” Reilly said of BP.

He was less forgiving of Congress, calling their reaction to the spill “very partisan and negative.”

Last year, the panel called for a series of steps to improve offshore drilling safety, from boosting budgets and training at the agency that oversees drilling to increasing the liability cap for companies that drill offshore.

Only one proposal appears to have a chance in Congress: diverting 80 percent of the water pollution fines from the disaster to Gulf Coast states affected by the spill. Even that proposal has withered as inland states press to keep their share of the money.

With gasoline prices rising, the focus of Republicans and the White House in an election year has turned to boosting domestic oil and gas production.

The report card from the presidential panel came as the conservation group Oceana issued its own report card calling government and industry response to the spill “woefully inadequate.” The group gave Congress an “F.”

Reilly, who led the EPA under former President George H.W. Bush, said the oil spill panel recognized that Congress had held hearings and that many lawmakers are trying to enact reforms.

“We wanted to encourage people in a positive direction,” he said. “We didn’t want to insult the whole institution with failure that an `F’ would’ve indicated.”

The presidential panel has reformed itself as Oil Spill Commission Action and has received money from a foundation set up by the founders of Wal-Mart. Much of the work is being done on a volunteer basis, Reilly said, adding that no decisions have been made on how long the group will stay together.



Oil Spill Commission Action:

Twitter: (at)MatthewDalyWDC

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Spill panel slams Congress over inaction on safety