Opening Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
It might come as a surprise to some people in this room, but I want to commend President Obama for his speech on the oil spill last Friday. He didn’t waste time pointing fingers, assigning blame, or issuing irresponsible statements against domestic energy production. He said what I’ve said from the very start. Let me quote him. The “most important order of business,” he said, “is to stop the leak…and we need to stop it as soon as possible.”
The President went on to say that we must “contain the spill and protect the Gulf Coast and the people who live there.” Again, that’s exactly what we should be doing. He also mentioned the need to “mitigate the damage caused by the spill,” and to put in place “every necessary safeguard and protection so that a tragedy like this oil spill does not happen again.”
This is very similar to what I said at our last hearing on the spill. I said that we need to:
• Mitigate and contain the environmental impacts;
• Provide assistance to the Gulf’s commercial and recreational fishing industries; and
• Investigate the causes so we can prevent a disaster of this kind from happening again.
Administrator Jackson, I have great respect for you—and I was pleased with what you said recently about the spill. You said we need a thoughtful response to ensure this doesn’t happen again. You said the focus must be on stopping the oil spill and helping the people affected. I couldn’t agree more.
I also appreciate your hard work, along with the Coast Guard and NOAA, in approving the testing on the subsea use of dispersants. The early results are encouraging. I also support your diligence in monitoring to ensure that the use of dispersants is effective and environmentally sound.
Based on what I’ve seen thus far, we have agreement on what needs to get done and I hope we can agree on the path forward. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that this spill has occasioned some fatally misguided legislation, which will make us more dependent on foreign oil.
This Committee exercises primary jurisdiction over the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990. Senator Menendez’s bill, S. 3305, would amend the OPA. He may not know it, but his bill is a big help for big oil companies, such
as BP, and for foreign and state-owned oil companies.
S. 3305 would make offshore production for small- and medium-sized independent producers economically
infeasible—they would be forced out of the Gulf. We can’t forget that the independents produce 63 percent of the Gulf’s natural gas and 36 percent of its oil. If S. 3305 became law, their business would be swallowed up by the likes of BP and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. How would that help address the spill? How would that lessen our dependence on foreign oil?
We experienced something like this in 1989 with the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. Remember that that incident was different from what are dealing with now. Exxon-Valdez was the name of the tanker that crashed in Prince William Sound. It was a transportation accident.
I was on the House Transportation Committee at the time. Much to my dismay, environmental groups politicized the accident; they exploited it to achieve their goal of shutting down domestic oil production. Of course, the irony is that we are more dependent on foreign oil. Companies moved their operations overseas. What’s more, we now have more tankers coming to port, which increases our risk of oil spills.
Yesterday, President Obama announced plans to establish an independent commission to comprehensively investigate the causes of this spill. Madame Chairman, let’s address the urgent needs of the moment. And then, after that, when we have all the facts, we can draft the appropriate response, one that will protect the environment and lessen our dependence on foreign oil. We can do both and I hope we will do both.