US President Barack Obama [official website] on Thursday called for new oil pollution laws [statement] in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Speaking at a meeting of congressional leaders from both political parties, Obama emphasized the need to update the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 [materials], a piece of legislation that was passed in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill [backgrounder]. In his statement, Obama explained:
[T]he laws that have been in place have not been adequate for a crisis of this magnitude. The Oil Pollution Act was passed at a time when people didn't envision drilling four miles under the sea for oil. And so it's going to be important that, based on facts, based on experts, [and] based on a thorough examination of what went wrong ... we update the laws to make sure that the people in the Gulf, the fishermen, the hotel owners, families who are dependent for their livelihoods in the Gulf, that they are all made whole and that we are in a much better position to respond to any such crisis in the future.Obama also used the occasion to call on Congress to pass energy reform legislation, several versions of which have been introduced [JURIST report] in recent months. Also Thursday, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] said that federal funds will not be used [Reuters report] to pay for the cleanup, and that BP [corporate website] would be held responsible for all damages. Additionally, British Prime Minister David Cameron [official website] announced Thursday that his government would be willing to assist [Reuters report] in dealing with the oil spill.
Last week, Holder announced that the Department of Justice [official website] would be reviewing whether any criminal or civil laws were violated by BP [JURIST report]. Holder cited several statutes being examined by government lawyers including the Clean Water Act [materials] and the Oil Pollution Act. The Clean Water Act includes both civil and criminal penalties, and the Oil Pollution Act can be used to hold parties liable for cleanup costs. Obama held a press conference in May to announce new regulations to mitigate future oil spills [JURIST report] and the current plan of action for resolving the crisis created by the ongoing spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The government suspended several offshore drilling activities including exploration of platform locations in Alaska, pending lease sales in the Gulf and Virginia, and the drilling of 33 deepwater exploratory wells in the Gulf. The government also suspended the issuance of new permits to drill deepwater wells for six months. Obama stated that increased government regulation in the oil industry was necessary to alter the "cozy and sometimes corrupt" relationship it has built with federal regulators.