Letter to Congress Urging Reforms of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act Oil Pollution Act


Dear Member of Congress:

As you consider your August recess plans – perhaps fishing and swimming at the beach or boating on the bay - we urge you to pass legislation before you leave that will protect those beaches and bays while restoring the wetlands and coastal regions in the Gulf of Mexico devastated by the recent oil spill.

The late April explosion and sinking of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig brought into sharp focus the human and environmental risks of offshore oil drilling, exposing a system in which industry has been allowed to cut corners on safety and environmental protection. It is becoming increasingly clear that the system for deciding where, when and how to drill offshore needs substantial reform. It is time to plug the leaks in our nation’s offshore drilling laws.

The current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is the result of a systemic failure. Congress must now assert its oversight responsibilities by passing significant reforms of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) and the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), the statutes that govern mineral extraction from our oceans, and oil spill liability, response and recovery. Congress has not enacted significant amendments to OCSLA since 1978. In the 32 intervening years, advancements in technology have allowed extraction of oil and gas from ever-deeper waters and in new areas, but regulation and environmental review has not kept pace. The technology for extraction has far outstripped responsible planning as well as the capacity and quality of oil spill prevention and response capabilities. The Gulf ecosystem and shoreline communities are now paying the price.

Attached you will find a list of reforms we believe are critical to addressing the existing deficiencies in the law. In addition, we urge you to protect the coastal wetlands of the Gulf and other states by including dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and ocean and coastal conservation. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Congress established a Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council to ensure better oversight of government regulators and the industry in Prince William Sound. We must now do the same for the Gulf and other areas where offshore drilling is proposed, such as the Arctic.

It is time to update and modernize the laws that govern oil and gas extraction from our oceans. It is time to bring oil spill response, recovery, and liability up to date with the technology that has allowed the extraction of oil and gas from deep water. The time is now. Plug the leaks in the law prior to recessing for the summer.


Karen Steuer
Director, Government Relations
Pew Environment Group
(202) 887-8818 ksteuer@pewtrusts.org

The Pew Environment Group’s offshore energy reform work is now a part of Pew’s Arctic Ocean Program.