Commerce Committee Approves Cantwell's Legislation to Improve Oil Spill Response Technologies to Protect Puget Sound, America's Coasts

WASHINGTON, DC – Today legislation authored by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) improving oil spill response technologies was approved in a 16-9 vote by the Senate Commerce Committee and included in Chairman Jay Rockefeller’s SHORE (Securing Health for Ocean Resources and Environment) Act. Provisions from Cantwell’s Oil Spill Technology and Research Act included in SHORE address inadequacies in existing oil spill response plans that rely on outdated technologies with no incentive for research and development or investment in new methods. Additionally, SHORE included several of Cantwell’s provisions from her 2009 Oil Pollution Prevention and Response Act and 2010 Coast Guard authorization bill to strengthen oil spill prevention and response. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
“The oil spill response technology being used today in the Gulf of Mexico is the same technology used at the time of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill,” Senator Cantwell said. “It is past time for the oil industry to invest in developing new technologies and integrating them into oil spill prevention and response plans. My legislation will fill this gap and incentivize the industry to bring prevention and response into the 21st century. I’d like to thank Chairman Rockefeller and also the Ranking Member of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee Senator Snowe for her thoughtful input on this legislation.”
Cantwell's provisions from the Oil Spill Technology and Research Actwhich passed out of Committee today as part of SHORE will:
  1. Establish a Federal Oil Spill Research Committee: Chaired by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Coast Guard, and other federal agencies to coordinate efforts across the federal government and force a government plan and action on this issue.
  1. Create a comprehensive oil spill R&D program: Designed to conduct oil pollution research, technology development and demonstration among the federal agencies, in cooperation and coordination with industry, universities, research institutions, state governments, and tribal governments.
  1. Create an oil spill R&D grants program: Competitive grants to universities or other research institutions for oil spill research and technology development and meeting the purposes of the newly-established federal R&D program.
  1. Require spill response plans to be updated every five years to include the best available technology: Gives the Coast Guard the authority to establish requirements and issue guidance on what constitutes ‘best available technology,’ in the same manner that EPA sets such standards under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act.
  1. Create a Coast Guard process for the formal evaluation and validation of new spill technologies: Directs the development of a program where new methods and technologies can be formally submitted, evaluated and gain validation for use in oil spill responses and inclusion in response plans.
Cantwell's 2009 Oil Pollution Prevention and Response Act provisions which passed out of Committee today as part of SHORE will:
1.      Use of Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for expenses of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Authorizes the use of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for NOAA expenses relating to this Act.
[Note: This provision was also included in
Cantwell’s Coast Guard authorization bill of 2010]
2.      Coast Guard Inspections: This provision would mandate improvements in the frequency and comprehensiveness of Coast Guard safety inspections for all United States and foreign flag tank vessels.
3.      Navigational measures for protection of natural resources: Requires the Coast Guard, in consultation with other appropriate federal agencies, to establish routing or other navigational measures where warranted, in order to reduce the risk of oil spills. Factors to be considered include the frequency of transits of vessels carrying oil, the expected costs and benefits of such measures, and the nature and value of the resources to be protected. 
4.      Notice to states of bulk oil transfers: Clarifies that a coastal state can require at least 24 hours notice to the state and to the U.S. Coast Guard before a transfer of oil of 250 barrels or more to, from, or within a vessel in state waters.
At a Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard hearing Cantwell chaired on July 21, Senators and witnesses discussed several promising technologies and techniques that exist but that the oil industry has failed to utilize, especially when it comes to dealing with underwater oil vents. Current response plans rely on satellite imagery and aerial surveying to determine the extent of a surface spill, but no technology is utilized to analyze underwater plumes, which are much more difficult to treat. Among the promising technologies discussed at last week’s hearing are oil solidifiers, new remediation techniques for breaking down spilled oil, and absorbent fiber membranes.
Cantwell has been calling for spill prevention and coastal protection legislation since long before the Deepwater Horizon spill. For more than three years, Cantwell has been working to enact a U.S. Coast Guard authorization bill that contains important oil spill protections. The bill finally passed the Senate on May 7 without opposition. The bill, which is awaiting final House-Senate approval, includes Cantwell-authored provisions that would significantly enhance oil spill response and prevention in Puget Sound and on America’s coasts. Cantwell also had an amendment added to the Outer Continental Shelf Reform Act of 2010 that significantly improves oversight and safety of offshore oil drilling rigs by filling a gap in current regulatory policy.
Watch a video of Cantwell’s remarks from the July 22 hearing when the Committee discussed Cantwell’s legislation.
High quality audio and video of Senator Cantwell’s July 22 remarks are available upon request.