Senate Democrats

On Your Side: Ensuring an Effective Response and Demanding Accountability for the BP Oil Spill

Residents of the Gulf Coast have had their lives and livelihoods upended by the BP oil spill, with damages to the environment potentially lasting for generations.  Senate Democrats have taken initial steps to help address this catastrophe and provide immediate relief to Gulf Coast communities and businesses.  Moving forward, we are committed to a full recovery in the Gulf and accountability for BP.

In contrast, Republicans continue to protect Big Oil by blocking or watering down legislative initiatives that seek to address the damages from the spill, provide recovery, ensure accountability, and advance critical regulatory reforms.  Recent examples of misguided Republican tactics include:

  • Senate Republicans refused to allow passage of the Tax Extenders legislation, which included vital provisions for economic recovery in the Gulf and would have increased the amount of money that oil companies are required to pay into the oil spill trust fund.
  • Senate Republicans blocked repeated attempts to raise the liability cap on economic damages that oil companies enjoy.
  • And shockingly, some in the Republican Party even apologized to BP for efforts to hold them accountable for this preventable disaster. 

After years of mismanagement, deregulation, and failed policies, shouldn’t Republicans start looking out for someone other than Big Oil?

This document outlines several of the steps that Senate Democrats have already taken to help the Gulf Coast recover from this unprecedented tragedy as well as ongoing steps that Senate Democrats are advancing to ensure that BP is held fully accountable.

Ensuring BP Pays for Damages

  • Requiring BP to Pay for Its Mistakes.  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.
  • Restoring Fairness to Grieving Families.  The explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig claimed the lives of 11 individuals, leaving their families with virtually no way of seeking adequate restitution.  Unfortunately, current law does not sufficiently cover families of those killed on the high seas.  The Senate Judiciary Committee has reported out the Survivors Equality Act (S.3463), which would allow families to recover damages for the loss of care, comfort, and companionship, as well as for recovery for the pain and suffering their loved one experience prior to death.

Strong Response of the Federal Government

Shortly after the spill began in May, Senate Democrats advanced the Supplemental Appropriations Act, H.R.4899, which includes a number of key provisions that will help key federal agencies respond to the devastating spill.  Democrats are committed to finalizing this legislation in order to send it to the President for his signature in the coming weeks.

  • Economic Development Assistance Programs.  The bill includes $5 million for the Economic Development Administration’s Economic Adjustment Assistance programs to award grants to state, local, and nonprofit entities in regions affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for strategic planning and technical assistance.  Activities to be funded include short- and long-term economic recovery plans and state and local economic recovery coordinators, including assistance to tourism-related businesses in oil impacted areas.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). H.R.4899 includes $13 million for the Secretary of Commerce to be available if other sources do not sufficiently mitigate the economic impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on fishermen and fishery-dependent businesses.  The bill also would provide $7 million for NOAA for activities that support the response to the oil spill but may not qualify as recoverable from the responsible parties of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, including the conduct of scientific pre-sampling and post sampling analysis for the Gulf of Mexico and the study of the short and long term effects of dispersants on the Gulf ecosystem.
  • Inspections and Enforcement at the Department of Interior. H.R.4899 would provide $29 million for inspections, enforcement, studies and other activities requested by the Secretary related to inspections and investigations for determining the causes and impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
  • Investigations and Enforcement at the Department of Justice.  The bill includes $10 million for the Civil Division and the Environment and Natural Resources Division for civil defensive litigation, and civil and criminal enforcement under the OilPollutionAct, the FederalTortsClaimsAct, and the CleanWaterAct.

Ensuring a Thorough Investigation

  • Subpoena Power for Commission Investigators.  Senate Democrats have brought forward S.3462, a bill that would provide subpoena power to the National Commission on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Residents of the Gulf, and all Americans, deserve to know exactly what went wrong, who was responsible, and how we can prevent spills in the future.  The ability to issue subpoenas will help investigators answer these critical questions. 

Ensuring that Oil Companies Pay Their Fair Share

  • Expansion of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.  To keep taxpayers from having to pay for Big Oil’s mistakes, Senate Democrats passed and President Obama signed S.3473, a bill that authorizes advances from the Oil Spill Liability Trust fund for the Gulf Coast oil spill.  The Oil Spill Liability Trust fund is financed through a per-barrel tax that the oil industry pays on oil produced or imported into the United States.

Strengthening Management of the Outer Continental Shelf

  • Reducing the Chance for Future Disasters.  To ensure that catastrophic disasters like the one in the Gulf do not happen again, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has brought forward the Outer Continental Shelf Management Reform Act.  This bill would require the development and enforcement of safety and environmental laws for offshore drilling.