Chairman Baucus, thank you for holding today’s hearing. The Yellowstone River is truly one of America’s great treasures and we all share your concern with the recent spill. In addition, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the work crews from EPA, Coast Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana state and local agencies, and others who for the past two weeks have worked long hours to protect health and wildlife in the affected area.
As Congress examines this incident the most important order of business should focus on three priorities:
- Mitigate and contain the environmental impacts;
- Provide assistance to those affected; and
- Investigate the causes so we can prevent a mishap of this kind from happening again.
And I would add this: let’s avoid overreacting. Now this incident is serious—perhaps 750 to 1,000 barrels of oil were spilled into the river. But, unfortunately, I’m afraid that this spill has occasioned some misguided calls against pipelines and oil development. Already, some politicians have leveraged this spill in opposition to the expansion of the Keystone pipeline which would double the amount of crude we receive from Canada, reducing our imports from overseas.
Instead, let’s look to the common sense testimony of one of today’s witnesses, Scott McBurney, a local landowner adjacent to the spill on the Yellowstone. He said, “I need oil, it’s just a fact of life, there’s no such thing as a plug-in tractor. This country needs oil. More than that, we need the jobs the oil industry brings to Eastern Montana. The Yellowstone Valley is a better place because the Exxon/Mobil refinery is here. I know a lot of people would take exception to this opinion, but I believe it.”
Mr. Chairman, he’s right. This country needs oil. It’s important that our response to this tragedy be measured, and it be based on facts. Let’s avoid getting sidetracked by other issues like the Keystone pipeline that will needlessly complicate efforts to address the current spill. I’m looking forward to hearing from all our witnesses today.