House committee approves measure restricting offshore drilling permits

[JURIST] The US House Committee on Natural Resources [official website] on Wednesday approved an amendment [press release], as part of a broader piece of legislation [HB 3534 materials] that would bar new offshore drilling and gas permits to any company with a history of violating environmental or workplace safety laws. Under the amendment, any company that has, during the previous seven years, incurred fines of $10 million under the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act [materials] or has had more than 10 fatalities at any of its facilities would be barred from drilling in US waters. The amendment would also hold companies responsible for the health and safety record of any of their subsidiaries or successor companies, in order to prevent corporate reorganization to avoid the regulations. The proposed legislation would apply to all drilling companies, but would immediately bar British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website] from receiving drilling permits due to the 11 fatalities related to the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Congressman George Miller (D-CA) [official website] proposed the amendment to encourage corporate responsibility among oil companies. He singled out BP as an example of a company in need of reform, stating:

[M]any companies are proud of their safety and environment records, and demonstrate a commitment to good behavior. They are the model for what my Amendment seeks to achieve. It is regrettable that BP is a company with extensive violations and no history of working to mend its ways. Unable to change on its own, my amendment would require BP, and any other company like it, to become a responsible actor or lose access to the valuable offshore assets that belong to the American people.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee [official website] is expected to begin discussion on similar legislation [HR 5626 materials] on Thursday.

US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar [official website] on Tuesday issued a new six-month drilling moratorium [text, PDF; JURIST report] that prohibits deepwater drilling with certain technologies, citing new evidence regarding safety concerns after the BP oil spill. The new moratorium was issued after a federal judge placed a preliminary injunction against the original moratorium [JURIST reports] implemented by the Obama administration in May. The Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] appealed the ruling [JURIST report] arguing that the district judge abused his discretion in issuing the injunction and that another deepwater spill could overwhelm the ongoing efforts to clean up the spill with catastrophic results. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] denied [JURIST report] the DOJ's request last week. More than 120 million gallons of oil have leaked already from the rig's broken pipe and has now surpassed the Exxon Valdez oil spill [JURIST news archive] as the worst in US history.

 

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