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Both House and Senate oil spill measures take needed steps, should be enacted into law quickly


The clock is ticking, but the Senate shouldn’t delay: Senate lawmakers should pass oil spill legislation this week before leaving town for the August recess.

The BP disaster in the Gulf has highlighted not only the high price tag attached to our addiction to oil but also failings in the way the government deals with oil companies. Bills introduced in both the House of Representatives (H.R. 3543) and Senate (S. 3663) would tackle the latter and throw in some green energy provisions as well. Ultimately, the provisions in both bills should be included in a final law.

Both measures would rightly abolish the existing $75 million cap for oil companies’ liability for spills and restructure the agency formerly knows as the Minerals Management Service. The Senate bill would provide tax credits to promote natural gas-fueled vehicles and plug-in electric vehicles, and would provide money for the “Home Star” program to encourage people to retrofit their homes with more efficient appliances.

The House bill, which was approved last week, would reform the royalty system to ensure oil companies pay their fair share to taxpayers for use of public land, set new safety standards for blowout preventers and establish a conservation fee that would be used for land and water conservation.

Neither measure is a substitute for climate change legislation, which is desperately needed. We must wean ourselves off fossil fuels.

But the provisions in both these bills are needed. We urge the Senate to pass its bill and for both chambers to then pass reconciled legislation containing the measures in both the House and Senate bills.

The oil industry’s dominance in Congress is one of the worst examples of corporate interests hijacking the legislative process. These reforms are a good start in reining in this industry. In the future, Congress should not wait for a catastrophic event to enact reforms and policies to protect people and hold polluting industries accountable.

Tyson Slocum is the director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program.