As Americans continue to watch the failure of BP to turn off the oil spigot caused by the Deepwater Horizon explosion, we are distressed by the loss of life and sickened by the destruction to our Gulf Coast. Americans also are concerned about potential damage that could be caused as currents carry the oil eastward toward Florida and possibly up the Atlantic Coast. As we watch and pray for a resolution of the biggest oil spill in our nation’s history, there are several key points we need to keep in mind.
First, the oil gusher needs to be totally stopped. While there appears to be some decrease in the flow from the latest containment effort, that is not enough. BP must deploy every resource possible to stopping the leaking, including completion of the two relief wells as soon as possible.
Second, BP must be fully liable for the remediation of the spill and the loss to the economy. To date, crude oil has already polluted more than 100 miles of Louisiana coastline, and oil has been sighted along barrier islands in Alabama and Mississippi. That devastation will only get worse. BP must bear the full financial responsibility for economic losses suffered by fishing and tourist industries and other businesses hurt by the spill. It also must bear the full cost of damages to wildlife and natural resources as well as any other costs that would be borne by taxpayers. I have co-sponsored the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act, S. 3305, which would increase the current liability cap for offshore drilling spills from $75 million to $10 billion.
Third, we need a total moratorium on all new drilling until a full review is conducted of procedures used by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) in approving drilling plans and permits. In March, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that MMS often ignored, altered, or suppressed scientific findings during the approval process.
On March 31 – prior to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe – President Obama announced that he planned to open the Atlantic Coast, south of the New Jersey/Delaware border, to oil and gas drilling. I am pleased that the president recently reversed that decision and cancelled the planned sale of drilling rights off the Virginia Coast, a location that is 50 miles due east of the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay and 60 miles from Assateague Island National Seashore. While I applaud that decision, I want a total ban on drilling in all environmentally sensitive areas, particularly along the Atlantic Coast. The risks are simply too great for the small amount of oil and gas that might be recoverable in the Atlantic.
I am a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which is conducting hearings on the spill. I have been appalled by the fact that BP officials have consistently understated the risks associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling operation. On May 17, I called for a full-scale civil and criminal investigation into the oil spill and whether BP intentionally misrepresented or overstated its ability to respond to a catastrophic oil spill. I am pleased that Attorney General Eric Holder is proceeding with a Department of Justice investigation and has said there will be indictments if it appears that criminal statutes have been violated.
Finally, we will remain forever vulnerable to this type of catastrophe unless we develop a comprehensive energy policy that rewards conservation, strongly encourages alternative fuels, and safely and wisely manages the development and use of existing fossil fuels. The BP spill is a wake-up call to our nation that we need an energy policy that protects the environment, generates green jobs, and bolsters our national and economic security.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin has been a national leader on health care, retirement security, the environment and fiscal issues since coming to Congress in 1987.