Matt Dempsey (202) 224-9797

David Lungren (202) 224-5642

Opening Statement of Senator James M. Inhofe

Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

Full Committee Business Meeting

Wednesday, June 30, 2010, 9:00 a.m.

I thank the Chair and am pleased to note that the staff on the Majority side, working with mine, has been able to work out many of my concerns on the various water bills.   I especially want to thank Senator Cardin and his staff for their courtesy and patience in working with me.   On S. 1816 the "Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act of 2009", I appreciate the willingness of Senator Cardin to consider my suggestions.  I recognize that the Chesapeake Bay is a unique water body and, as such, requires some very precise protections, but I remain concerned that despite our best intentions, the language has the potential of creating a template for watershed systems outside of the Chesapeake Bay.   However, given Senator Cardin's commitment to continue to work with me, I will not be offering the amendments that I had filed to S. 1816 and will not oppose a voice vote on the bill should one be requested.

Also, I want to thank you, Madame Chair, for agreeing to put on the agenda today S. 3354 and H.R. 3562-both, notably, are supported by Senators Cochran and Wicker.   S. 3354 re-designates the North Mississippi National Wildlife Refuges complex as the "Sam D. Hamilton North Mississippi National Wildlife Refuges Complex."  Mr. Hamilton was a great conservationist and it is fitting that we commemorate his exemplary service and dedication to our nation's natural resources by naming a fish and wildlife refuge after him.

H.R. 3562 designates the federally occupied building located at 1220 Echelon Parkway in Jackson, Mississippi as the "James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner Federal Building."   These three gentlemen were civil rights workers murdered in 1964.   I have an amendment that would add Roy K. Moore, who was the FBI Special Agent in Charge of investigating these murders.  This addition was requested by Senators Cochran and Wicker.

Now I want to turn to S. 3305, and the Boxer substitute amendments to the Menendez bill.  I sit here today profoundly disappointed that my offer of a compromise on liability limits under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) was rejected.  Let me explain what I offered.

First, I think everyone here agrees on a few core principles:

  • The leak should be stopped;
  • The environmental damage should be mitigated; 
  • Those suffering economic harm should be made whole; and
  • BP must pay.

And on the issue of liability caps under OPA, they must be raised. Sen. Murkowski has proposed a workable solution.  I have taken language from her comprehensive oil spill legislation that empowers the President to set liability caps based on several risk factors, including water depth, estimated well pressure, the proximity of a lease to emergency response equipment and infrastructure, as well as a company's safety record. 

In other words, under this approach, the President could make distinctions between different wells and the different circumstances attendant to each-and then set the liability caps accordingly.  This is a reasonable approach that allows for careful deliberation, one that balances the need for safety, environmental protection, domestic energy production, and jobs. 

I should note that I was even willing to consider unlimited liability in specific cases-that is, if the President believed the risks of a specific project were too high, then a lessee would have to operate without a cap. So we weren't far apart.  Yet, at least at this point, there's no desire on the other side to reach a compromise-I fear they may want a political issue, not a practical solution.  I suppose it was paramount that today's outcome conform to the talking point that one party stands with Big Oil while the other stands with "the people."  

But the irony is that if the Boxer substitute amendments become law, drilling in the Gulf will dry up, and the only players left standing will be BP and China's National Offshore Oil Corporation.  In other words, Big Oil. 

Let's set aside the liability caps for a moment: I can assure you that Boxer substitute #2, by itself, will push smaller producers out of the Gulf, as it creates so many hurdles, so many unreasonable obstacles, that safety-the ostensible purpose behind this amendment-won't be an issue, because drilling will be so costly that few will be able to afford it.  So who ultimately benefits?  That's right, Big Oil. 

Again, let it be known for the record that my colleagues and I sought bipartisan compromise.  We wanted the same outcome as in 1990, when OPA passed unanimously after Exxon Valdez.  I thought the same could happen here.  But now 1990 seems like eons ago.

Madame Chairman, I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet; I will continue to try work with Democrats so we can reach agreement.  That's because I think the approach we have put before the committee contains the essential elements for compromise: polluters pay, victims are made whole, and the United States continues to have a robust domestic offshore energy industry that creates jobs and lessens our dependence on foreign oil.