Panel approves offshore drilling bills after partisan debate
The House Natural Resources Committee approved legislation today to reform offshore oil drilling and pipeline infrastructure oversight during a markup punctuated by partisan bickering over fossil fuels.
Democrats said progress on the offshore bills, first introduced earlier in the year, had become more pressing after the recent crude spill in the Pacific Ocean that washed up on the California coast.
“The pipeline rupture of Huntington Beach is yet another wake-up call for Congress,” said Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today.
The bills approved include Rep. Julia Brownley's (D-Calif.) "Offshore Pipeline Safety Act," H.R. 2643, to require the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to update pipeline regulations, including mandates for leak detection systems in the Gulf of Mexico and regular inspections. It would also add annual fees on pipelines, something Brownley argued would protect taxpayers from the cost of cleanup should infrastructure be abandoned.
The bill passed with an amendment from Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), which would mandate a consideration of the bill’s potential impact on reducing reef fishing habitat. But even with the GOP amendment, the party called the whole proposal unnecessary.
“Instead of addressing rising oil prices and inflation, this committee is marking up a bill that would deceitfully impose crushing new fees under the guise of safety,” said Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.).
Committee ranking member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) argued that Brownley’s fee would not cover reclamation as claimed but fund a “budget wish list” for Democrats.
He noted that the measure was included in the House Natural Resources portion of the budget reconciliation package and that funds would go directly to the Treasury rather than a cleanup fund.
The second bill was the "Offshore Accountability Act," H.R. 570. Introduced by Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), the bill would require offshore operators notify Interior of critical systems failures and further mandate that Interior make those reports public.
The bill would represent a pivot from the existing anonymous reporting system managed under the Department of Transportation, both in asking Interior to take the lead and in publicizing information.
McEachin said the changes would make it easier for the public to track what is happening offshore and monitor potential trends. Republicans disagreed.
“Everybody here is concerned with maintaining a safe and healthy offshore environment. But this bill would do nothing to further that goal,” said Westerman, warning of a “flood of reports.”
Rosendale proposed an amendment that would have made the bill contingent on Interior first determining that the cost of compliance would not increase and be passed on to consumers. McEachin protested.
He said the amendment was a bad faith attempt to “slow things up” and encouraged lawmakers to use their voting power to oppose or support the bill rather than proposing unlikely scenarios or conditions for passage.
“It's interesting to me how all of a sudden when you try to inform the public of what's going on, the Republican responses is you're driving up costs, you're anti this, anti that,” the Virginia Democrat said.
Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) said, “I am honestly shocked by some of the misinformation that I've heard this morning. To argue that we as a nation cannot afford to require oil companies to operate safely and to clean up their own messes as thousands of barrels of oil are spilling into the ocean is doublespeak.”
Two other bills sparked debate before passage today. H.R. 160, the "Restoring Resilient Reefs Act," from Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), would reauthorize the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 and establish a coral reef task force.
Additionally, H.R. 3075, the "Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act," from Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), and supported by Graves, would combat seafood slavery and illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing. Minnesota Republican Rep. Pete Stauber, however, said he was concerned the bill “punished importers that are acting in good faith.”
The committee also advanced the following 13 bills by unanimous consent:
- H.R. 442, the "Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Land Transfer Act," from Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), to allow conveyance of property to the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium in Sitka, Alaska.
- H.R. 897, the "Agua Caliente Land Exchange Fee to Trust Confirmation Act," from Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), to place certain lands in California into trust for the benefit of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
- H.R. 1286, the "Southern Campaign of the Revolution National Heritage Corridor Act," from Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), to establish the Southern Campaign of the Revolution National Heritage Corridor in North and South Carolina.
- H.R. 1975, the "Pala Band of Mission Indians Land Transfer Act," from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), to place certain land located in San Diego County, Calif., into trust for the benefit of the Pala Band of Mission Indians.
- H.R. 2024, the "Southern Maryland National Heritage Area Act," from Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), to establish the Southern Maryland National Heritage Area.
- H.R. 2074, the "Indian Buffalo Management Act," from Young, to assist tribal governments in the management of buffalo and buffalo habitat and for the reestablishment of buffalo on American Indian lands.
- H.R. 2088, the "Eastern Band of Cherokee Historic Lands Reacquisition Act," from Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), to take certain federal lands in Tennessee into trust for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
- H.R. 2107, the "Nation’s Oldest Port National Heritage Area Act." from Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.).
- H.R. 2930, the "Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act," from Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.), to strengthen protections of Native American cultural artifacts.
- H.R. 3222, the "Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act," from Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.).
- H.R. 3670, the "Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act," from Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), to improve access for outdoor recreation through the use of special recreation permits on federal lands and waters.
- H.R. 4881, the "Old Pascua Community Land Acquisition Act," from Grijalva, to order the Interior Department to take some Arizona land into trust for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona.
- H.R. 5221, the "Urban Indian Health Confer Act," would amend the "Indian Health Care Improvement Act," also from Grijalva, to establish an urban American Indian organization conference policy with the Department of Health and Human Services.
By: Heather Richards
Source: E&E News
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