Senate Democrats

Acting on Oil Spill Accountability and Clean Energy Legislation

In early June, Senator Reid asked a number of Senate committees to provide recommendations or to report legislation that would not only address the ongoing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and reduce the risks of such a catastrophe happening again, but also move forward rapidly on a safer, cleaner and more secure energy policy.  Since then, a number of Senate committees have been working to meet the request of Senator Reid and the Senate may soon consider such legislation.  The following document provides an outline of some of the principles that will be important as the Senate moves toward the potential consideration of legislation.

Clean Up and Economic Recovery

At the urging of Senate Democrats and President Obama, BP agreed to create a $20 billion escrow account to ensure that businesses, property owners and communities are fully compensated for the economic damages they incur from this manmade disaster.  This independently monitored fund will help local businesses receive compensation in an expedited manner, which is vital because these businesses are already seeing the negative impacts from the spill.  Despite the creation of BP’s escrow account, much more needs to be done so that future responsible parties quickly and justly compensate the victims of oil spills.  Senate Democrats are committed to ensuring that future responses are swift and accurate and that responsible parties are liable for the clean-up and damages caused by oil spills.

Accountability

The damage caused by the BP oil spill and the potential damage that could be caused by future disasters makes it clear that oil companies must be held accountable for their actions and the damages caused by their operations.  This may require adjusting current law to more accurately assess and address the damages caused by failures, to ensure the swift and fair compensation to the people and communities affected by the oil pollution, and to update relevant criminal and civil penalty structures. 

Reform

The events that preceded the BP oil spill have also brought attention to the need to make sure that effective federal safety standards are in place and enforced and that we are better equipped to avert, detect and adequately respond to disastrous failures in the future.  This may require reforms to the agencies responsible for regulating the development of oil and gas resources as well as new requirements on the oil companies to increase their investment in research and development to improve their ability to prevent and respond to domestic oil spills. 

Clean Energy Future

The BP oil spill has refocused the nation’s attention on the need to move toward a clean energy future that has the potential to reinvigorate industries and create a great number of jobs.  The BP oil spill also makes it clear that America can no longer afford “business as usual” practices that fail to consider how our current energy policy is adding unsustainable burdens to future generations.  In order to promote clean energy jobs and a clean energy future, the Senate may consider legislation that invests in energy efficiency and clean renewable energy such as solar, wind, and advanced biofuels.

The United States is grossly over-dependent on oil for our energy needs, in part because the oil companies have chosen not to invest their massive profits in the domestic production of clean and renewable alternative fuels that would make our nation more secure and reduce the risks of environmental disasters.  This over-dependency is particularly grave given that the United States has less than three percent of the world’s oil reserves, yet consumes approximately 25 percent of the world’s oil production.  This imbalance means we send hundreds of billions of dollars overseas to pay for oil every year instead of investing in clean energy jobs at home.  In order to address the national security concerns caused by our dependence on oil, legislation may be considered that moves the nation much more quickly to kick the oil habit and pushes harder for the production of affordable alternative fuels and advanced vehicles.

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