Federal Relations

August 5, 2010

House Passes Oil Spill Bill, Senate Struggle Will Continue in Fall

House Passes Oil Spill Bill

 Before adjourning for the August recess, the House of Representatives passed an oil spill response bill, HR 3534, the  Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2010 (CLEAR Act). The House bill removes the $75 million cap on economic liability reimbursement for offshore oil spills, restructures the Department of Interior’s offshore drilling regulatory functions, and bolsters mandatory funding for research and development. The bill calls for a program of research, development, and risk assessment to address technology and development issues, associated with exploration for, and development and production of, energy and mineral resources on the outer Continental Shelf, with the primary purpose of informing its role relating to safety, environmental protection, and spill response.

The House bill also establishes an Ocean Resources Conservation and Assistance Fund (ORCA) that would be used to provide grants to coastal states and Regional Ocean Partnerships and the Regional Coordination Councils for activities that contribute to the protection, maintenance, and restoration of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems.

 Grants would also be available for coastal states to improve their oil spill response planning, and for the implementation and operation of an Integrated Ocean Observation System (IOOS). The University of Washington is a key partner of the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS), which is 1 of 11 regional components of IOOS


Senate Makes an Attempt at an Oil Spill Bill 

The Senate leadership abandoned efforts to take up major energy and climate change legislation this year, acknowledging that they couldn’t get the 60 votes necessary to defeat a Republican filibuster. Instead, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) proposed a much more modest bill, the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act of 2010 (S. 3663), which addresses the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, promotes home energy-efficiency and vehicles powered by natural gas, and boosts funding for oil spill related research and development. However, even the smaller package proved a struggle for the Senate leadership as Republicans joined Democrats from oil producing states to stand firmly against the elimination of a $75 million cap on economic liability for offshore oil spills –a major component of the Reid bill.


Majority Leader Reid’s energy efficiency and oil spill legislation borrows from various bills offered in the Senate. The Reid bill includes R&D provisions offered in related legislation by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Of particular note to the academic research community is a directive that the Departments of Interior and Commerce start grant programs at institutions of higher education that establish research centers of excellence, which promote input from independent experts and will leverage the expertise and capacity of non-federal entities. The legislation also directs the EPA, NOAA, Coast Guard, and Department of the Interior to establish grant programs to provide funding to individuals and research institutions to conduct oil spill research and development.


At this point, it is uncertain if Senator Reid’s legislation will garner the votes necessary for passage in the fall, particularly as the oil vent on the seafloor is contained and the media begins to focus attention elsewhere.