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Weekly remarks: Vitter--Oil cleanup first, blame later; Obama--maybe more federal regs

May 22, 2010 |  3:00 am

the US Capitol at night

Remarks by Sen. David Vitter, as provided by the Republican National Committee

Hi, I’m Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana.

What a month it’s been since the initial explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform just off Louisiana’s coast.  

While the gulf oil spill most directly impacts Louisiana and our immediate neighbors, people all across the country certainly share in our feelings of anxiety as the ongoing gushing of the well continues.

They’ve also shared by joining together to provide relief for those most affected by this tragedy. And I know I speak for all Louisianians when I express how grateful we are for that outpouring of support.

As we continue to work toward a recovery solution, none of us should lose sight that....

...there are families who’ve lost loved ones. That is the greatest tragedy -- something everyone in Washington should try a little harder to remember.

I’ve also been all along Louisiana’s coast over the last few weeks meeting with those economically devastated -- oystermen and fishermen, mayors and local officials and others hit hard by the impacts of the spill.

They have clearly expressed that they don’t want a handout -- they want a job and a paycheck. And through the Vessels of Opportunity program, many of these folks have been hired to man the coastline and marsh protection efforts underway.  

But clearly more needs to be done. 

From the annual blessing of the boats in Chalmette -- a somber event this year -- to the public meetings with the Vietnamese community in New Orleans that continues to struggle in working with BP on claims issues, I’ve listened, learned, and left with a much deeper perspective on how people’s lives all along the coast have been disrupted.

That’s why it’s so frustrating to many Louisianians that while the crisis actually continues in the gulf -- while we’re still fighting to contain the well -- Washington Democratic Committee chairmen have rushed to create media events for television cameras instead of devoting full attention to stopping the immediate problem.

Louisiana Republican senator David Vitter

I guess it’s typical of the culture in Washington for politicians to believe that they can solve an ongoing crisis with statements and testimonies in Congressional committee rooms.  But the time for committee hearings is for after the well has been capped -- not before.

Folks closer to the scene understand that we want 100% of the attention of all parties focused on our two most immediate problems: stopping the gushing oil, and protecting our coastlines and marshes from the oil.

In addition to capping the well, coastal communities are in desperate need of more floating containment barriers, known as "boom." And I’ve talked numerous times to Adm. Thad Allen about this need.

But this boom is really just a Band-Aid to the larger wound of the spill. A greater, more substantial solution would be for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work immediately with our state to build up and extend our barrier islands made from materials dredged from the immediate area -- our rivers and deltas.

With BP, by the way, appropriately paying the bill.

To prevent this type of incident from ever happening again, I’ve also worked with other Gulf Coast senators to introduce legislation that addresses two specific areas: the liability cap for the responsible party of a spill, and greater technological preparedness to address any future incidents much more rapidly and effectively. 

Our Oil Spill Response and Assistance Act would establish a new liability cap equal to the last four quarters of the responsible party’s profits or double the current limit, whichever is greater. 

The bill would establish much greater reserve requirements for the amount of boom -- capable of withstanding up to six-foot waves -- and would direct work on technology to effectively cap leaks like the one currently gushing in the gulf.  

That would make offshore drilling safer, smarter and more reliable, but not extinct.

Some in Washington have tried to seize on this real human tragedy in the gulf to advocate for a radical new energy agenda. That only cheapens the loss of those who’ve lost loved ones and brushes aside the ongoing, unsolved problem to spring forward with an emotionally charged political agenda.

That’s wrong and, frankly, an example of bankrupt leadership.

Both Republicans and Democrats say they want to decrease our foreign dependence on oil, but ending all domestic energy production offshore would only make us that much more dependent.

And this false choice on how to proceed in the future of energy exploration in the wake of a terrible accident contributes little to the debate.

We all acknowledge that alternative fuels are the future, but the sad reality is that they are still very much in the future from a practical-use standpoint.  

That’s why domestic energy production is critical to free ourselves from foreign energy sources and should provide a bridge toward that more renewable, cleaner future.

I believe Americans understand that, even in the midst of this tragedy. And I know Louisianians do. Thank you.    ###


President Obama relaxing in the Oval Office

Remarks by President Obama, as provided by the Whiter House

One month ago this week, BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded off Louisiana’s coast, killing 11 people and rupturing an underwater pipe. The resulting oil spill has not only dealt an economic blow to Americans across the Gulf Coast, it also represents an environmental disaster. 

In response, we are drawing on America’s best minds and using the world’s best technology to stop the leak. We’ve deployed over 1,100 vessels, about 24,000 personnel, and more than 2 million total feet of boom to help contain it. And we’re doing all we can to assist struggling fishermen, and the small businesses and communities that depend on them.

Folks on the Gulf Coast -- and across America -- are rightly demanding swift action to clean up BP’s mess and end this ordeal. But they’re also demanding to know how this happened in the first place, and how we can make sure it never happens again. That’s what I’d like to spend a few minutes talking with you about.

First and foremost, what led to this disaster was a breakdown of responsibility on the part of BP and perhaps others, including Transocean and Halliburton. And we will continue to hold the relevant companies accountable not only for being forthcoming and transparent about the facts surrounding the leak, but for shutting it down, repairing the damage it does, and repaying Americans who’ve suffered a financial loss.
BP Oil Rig Burning in the Gulf of Mexico
But even as we continue to hold BP accountable, we also need to hold Washington accountable. Now, this catastrophe is unprecedented in its nature, and it presents a host of new challenges we are working to address. But the question is what lessons we can learn from this disaster to make sure it never happens again.

If the laws on our books are inadequate to prevent such an oil spill, or if we didn’t enforce those laws -- I want to know it.  I want to know what worked and what didn’t work in our response to the disaster, and where oversight of the oil and gas industry broke down. We know, for example, that a cozy relationship between oil and gas companies and agencies that regulate them has long been a source of concern.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has taken steps to address this problem; steps that build on reforms he has been implementing since he took office. But we need to do a lot more to protect the health and safety of our people; to safeguard the quality of our air and water; and to preserve the natural beauty and bounty of America.

In recent weeks, we’ve taken a number of immediate measures to prevent another spill.  We’ve ordered inspections of all deep-water operations in the Gulf of Mexico.  We’ve announced that no permits for drilling new wells will go forward until the 30-day safety and environmental review I requested is complete.  And I’ve called on Congress to pass a bill that would provide critical funds and tools to respond to this spill and better prepare us to confront any future spills.

But we also need to take a comprehensive look at how the oil and gas industry operates and how we regulate them. That is why, on Friday, I signed an executive order establishing the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. While there are a number of ongoing investigations, including an independent review by the National Academy of Engineering, the purpose of this commission is to consider both the root causes of the disaster and offer options on what safety and environmental precautions we need to take to prevent a similar disaster from happening again.  This commission, I’d note, is similar to one proposed by Congresswoman Capps and Sen. Whitehouse.

I’ve asked Democrat Bob Graham and Republican Bill Reilly to co-chair this commission. Bob served two terms as Florida’s governor, and represented Florida as a United States senator for almost two decades. During that time, he earned a reputation as a champion of the environment, leading the most extensive environmental protection effort in the state’s history.

Bill Reilly is chairman emeritus of the board of the World Wildlife Fund, and he is also deeply knowledgeable about the oil and gas industry. During the presidency of George H.W. Bush, Bill was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and his tenure encompassed the Exxon Valdez disaster.

I can’t think of two people who will bring greater experience or better judgment to the task at hand. In the days to come, I’ll appoint five other distinguished Americans -- including scientists, engineers, and environmental advocates -- to join them on the commission. And I’m directing them to report back in six months with recommendations on how we can prevent -- and mitigate the impact of -- any future spills that result from offshore drilling.

One of the reasons I ran for president was to put America on the path to energy independence, and I have not wavered from that commitment. To achieve that goal, we must pursue clean energy and energy efficiency, and we’ve taken significant steps to do so. And we must also pursue domestic sources of oil and gas. Because it represents 30% of our oil production, the Gulf of Mexico can play an important part in securing our energy future.

But we can only pursue offshore oil drilling if we have assurances that a disaster like the BP oil spill will not happen again. This commission will, I hope, help provide those assurances so we can continue to seek a secure energy future for the United States of America. Thanks so much.    ####

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Photos: Molly Riley / Reuters; Sen. Vitter's office; Pete Souza / White House; U.S. Coast Guard.