Top Democrat drafting plan to deny BP new offshore drilling leases

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that he’s drafting legislation to deny BP new offshore oil-and-gas leases for up to seven years due to the oil giant’s pattern of safety and environmental problems.

“British Petroleum has a flagrant history of taking risks to boost profits that has resulted in deaths of workers, destruction of the environment, and economic chaos in local communities,” Miller said in a prepared statement about BP, which is struggling to contain oil from its blown-out Gulf of Mexico well.

Miller, a top ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), hopes to offer his plan as an amendment to drilling safety legislation under construction in the House Natural Resources Committee. He once headed that panel and currently chairs the Education and Labor Committee.

Miller’s plan is not limited to BP. His office describes the upcoming bill this way:

“Under Miller’s draft legislation, the Secretary of Interior could not issue offshore oil and gas leases to a company the Secretary determines is a danger to workers and natural resources,” their summary states.

“A company would be considered to pose a risk to workers and the environment if it crosses an established threshold of violations of several environmental and worker safety laws – such as OSHA, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and others,” it continues.

The April 20 explosion at the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and touched off what has become the largest oil spill in U.S. history. BP’s oil spill is the latest of several high-profile accidents that have badly tarnished its reputation.

It follows a 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery that killed 15 people, and a 2006 oil spill from a pipeline at the company’s Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska.

Miller’s plan is one of multiple proposals to deny new leases to companies that run afoul of environmental and safety rules.

Across the Capitol, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved a broad bill Wednesday to toughen offshore drilling oversight and safeguards.

It includes a provision that would prevent oil companies from bidding on new offshore leases if the Interior Department finds that they are not meeting safety, environmental and due diligence requirements on their existing leases.

Companies responsible for oil spills would also be barred from seeking new leases if they have failed to pay for cleanup costs and damages from oil spills.