Greens organizing to pressure Congress to pass oil spill bill

Less than a week after the national oil spill commission released its final report on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, environmental groups are organizing to pressure Congress and the Obama administration to adopt the panel’s sweeping recommendations.

The commission’s final report called for a slew of regulatory and legislative changes that the panel said are essential for preventing another large-scale oil spill and fixing “systemic” problems in the oil industry and the federal government.

But the effort could face roadblocks. While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has called for passage of an oil spill bill, senior House Republicans have criticized the commission's report, setting up a fight on the issue.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is calling on its supporters to, “Urge your senators and representatives to support and implement the commission's recommendations to reform offshore oil and gas drilling, and to protect and restore our oceans.”

The group is circulating a form letter that its supporters can send to their senator or representative. The letter specifically calls on Congress to eliminate the current $75 million oil spill liability cap and to provide additional funding to the Interior Department to beef up its offshore drilling oversight. The spill commission recommended raising the liability cap, but did not offer a specific proposal on the issue. It also recommended that Congress provide additional funding for the Interior Department.

The Sierra Club is calling on its supporters to send lawmakers a similar form letter.

The group’s letter, among other things, calls on Congress to direct 80 percent of the fines imposed on BP and the other companies responsible for the spill to the Gulf coast recovery effort.

“Both President Obama and Congress need to take the Commission's recommendations seriously and act accordingly,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a blog post last week. “But we also have a responsibility as citizens to make it clear to them that we want to see real solutions instead of political posturing like attempts to weaken the EPA (an agency that actually is doing its job).”

It’s unclear whether Congress will be able pass the wide-ranging recommendations included in the commission’s report. While the House passed an oil spill response bill last year, it was never signed into law. And the negotiations on a Senate oil spill bill fell apart last year over disagreements about liability.

While many lawmakers praised the commission’s report, senior House Republicans who will be essential for passage of an oil spill bill in the chamber have responded coolly to the findings.

But the commission’s co-chairs have said that a number of their recommendations can be incorporated without Congress. And they’ve taken that message directly to President Obama. While it’s unclear if the administration will adopt the commission’s recommendations, which include a number of major changes to the Interior Department’s effort to reorganize its offshore drilling functions, Obama has asked his staff to analyze the report.

For more on the spill commission’s report, read E2’s primer on the issue.