Final Senate OCS Reform Community Letter
17 June, 2010
The Honorable Harry Reid
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Reid:
As a nation, we have watched in horror as crude oil has gushed into the Gulf of Mexico for almost two months after BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform caught fire and sank. We know that eleven people tragically lost their lives in the explosion. We do not yet know—and may never know—the full toll of this catastrophe on fragile marine ecosystems and the coastal economies that depend on them.
The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster highlights the urgency of passing comprehensive climate change and clean energy legislation that puts America back in control of its economic, national security, and environmental future. There is no time to delay in passing legislation that breaks our nation’s addiction to oil, helps win the clean energy race, and holds corporate polluters accountable.
The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster also vividly illustrates both the extent of the threat posed by irresponsible oil and gas development and the inadequacies in current law governing our ocean.
We must make fundamental improvements to the way we manage our ocean to place a higher priority on ocean health and move to more holistic, ecosystem-based approaches to managing our ocean. This reform should include adopting a strong national ocean policy and investing in more comprehensive approaches to ocean governance, as well as reforming specific federal laws
and regulations governing oil and gas development on the outer continental shelf.
We applaud your call for legislative reform in the wake of this disaster. As you work on priorities with Committee Chairmen, we urge you to address the following priority actions:
- Reform the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) by adding substantive standards to adequately protect ocean health and coastal economies. The statute’s mission should place a greater emphasis on protecting ocean health and substantive standards should be included such as: requiring that companies have adequate capacity to respond to oil spills; ensuring that more baseline science is available and used to inform decision-making; and specifying that planning efforts should identify and protect important ecological areas.
- Fix the planning and leasing process to ensure robust environmental review, enhance transparency, and allow for community input. The Minerals Management Service (MMS) must no longer be allowed to use the segmented nature of the OCSLA process to avoid rigorous analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other laws. Planning and leasing activities for oil and gas development need to proceed at scales that allow for meaningful environmental review with ample opportunity for community input and inclusion of local and traditional knowledge. Furthermore, natural resource and environmental agencies should have a greater role in providing science and influencing decision-making about oil and gas activities off our coasts.
- Restructure the agency responsibilities for oil and gas planning, leasing, and oversight. MMS lacks the expertise and institutional interest in broad ocean issues and has proven to be unable to assess objectively and accurately the potential risks of OCS drilling. Restructuring MMS should fully address conflicts between the revenue generating, planning, and environmental and safety enforcement responsibilities of the agency. In addition, expert agencies beyond MMS, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, should have a much greater role in decisions about OCS oil and gas activities and preparation of environmental analyses surrounding them.
- Hold oil companies and other responsible parties accountable for paying for clean up and damages associated with oil spills. The current $75 million cap on liability should be removed in order to hold companies like BP responsible for their actions and ensure that oil companies, not taxpayers, are forced to clean up after their mistakes.
- Direct funding from oil and gas activities to protect and restore ocean and coastal resources, increase our ocean knowledge, and develop our capacity to respond to and recover from oil spills. Oil companies make billions of dollars while putting our ocean ecosystems and coastal economies at risk. A portion of the revenue from these activities should be permanently available to protect, restore, and maintain our ocean, and coastal resources and be provided in such a way that it does not incentivize new drilling activity. In addition, as efforts over the last 58 days have demonstrated, our ability to respond to oil spills and reduce environmental harm is limited by the state of our ocean and coastal science and technology. Additional resources should be provided to better understand our coastal and marine environment and improve our ability to safely and sustainably operate there.
A truly effective response to the BP disaster must also move us away from our dependence on oil and toward a clean energy economy. We urge you to address the above priorities within the context of a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill. We look forward to working with you to address these crucial issues.
Natural Resources Defense Council
Government Affairs Director
Alaska Wilderness League
Blue Frontier Campaign
Director of Government Relations
Marine Campaign Director
Conservation Law Foundation
Ocean Conservation Research
Government Relations and External Affairs
Defenders of Wildlife
Endangered Species Coalition
Director, Government Relations
Pew Environment Group
Elliott A. Norse, PhD
Marine Conservation Biology Institute
National Campaign Director
National Estuarine Research Reserve Association
Southern Environmental Law Center
Congressional and Federal Affairs
National Wildlife Federation
Alaska Regional Director
The Wilderness Society
William M. Eichbaum
Marine and Arctic Policy
World Wildlife Fund
The Pew Environment Group’s offshore energy reform work is now a part of Pew’s Arctic Ocean Program.