House Dems unveil oil spill plan ahead of Friday debate

House Democrats on Monday unveiled their strategy to respond to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a package headed for the floor late this week that would shore up offshore rig safety standards and block BP from obtaining new offshore drilling leases. 

The bill, slated for debate Friday, also increases oil companies’ liability for damages from offshore spills.

The 238-page plan — a slimmed down combination of bills approved by three panels — would also give subpoena power to a commission President Obama has appointed in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico spill, while dropping the idea of creating a separate commission largely appointed by Congress.

The House Natural Resources Committee agreed by voice vote this month to set up a 10-member panel whose members would be appointed equally by the two parties. Obama would name the chairman, and congressional leaders would select the vice chairman and remaining eight members.

The House language — offered by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) — is identical to a plan from Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSenate GOP mulls speeding up Trump impeachment trial Green groups raise alarms about alleged Pentagon incineration of 'forever chemicals' House passes sweeping bill to target spread of toxic 'forever chemicals' MORE (R-Wy.) that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved last month.

The idea of setting up a competing commission attracted even Democratic support amid concern that the panel Obama picked leaned toward the views of offshore drilling critics.

But Democratic leaders dropped the idea in favor of beefing up Obama’s panel, which the House has already passed as a stand-alone bill.

The House Democratic strategy includes language from Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) that would block BP or any other company with a “significant history” of violating worker safety or environmental laws. The language — approved by voice vote in the House Natural Resources Committee — bars a company from drilling in federal waters if it has five times the industry average for willful or repeat worker safety violations at its oil and gas facilities; has more than 10 fatalities at any facility; or incurs fines of $10 million or more under EPA air or water laws within the preceding 7 years.

The package includes offshore rig safety standards approved by the Natural Resources panel, while dropping language in the panel’s bill regarding onshore oil and gas exploration. The point was to “focus on spill-related language,” a spokesman for House Natural Resources Chairman Nick RahallNick Joe RahallWe shouldn't allow politics to impede disaster relief Break the cycle of partisanship with infant, child health care programs Clinton mulls role in 2018 midterms MORE (D-W.Va.) said.

The package also includes a handful of provisions from a bill unanimously approved in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including new safety standards for blowout preventers.

Language from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also lifts the $75 million liability cap on oil companies to cover the current BP spill and future spills.

Democrats also unveiled a separate 16-page bill aimed at protecting whistleblowers in the offshore oil-and-gas industry. That plan will also be taken up Friday.

Both bills were sent to the Rules Committee Monday and lawmakers have until 6:30 Wednesday evening to file amendments.