Bill would make oil companies pay

Markey wants money for safety, cleanup research

By Erin Ailworth
Globe Staff / June 8, 2010

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CHALMETTE, La. — Massachusetts congressman Edward J. Markey’s office is drafting legislation calling for about $50 million a year in oil company royalties to pay for developing better safety and cleanup tools.

Making his second visit to the Gulf region since a massive oil spill began in April, the Malden Democrat said that as soon as this week he will introduce the bill to create the research fund. Markey said it will take at least $1 billion over the next decade to properly study the ecological impact of oil spills and develop the technologies necessary to control them.

At a hearing held here by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Markey said oil giant BP clearly was underprepared to deal with its own emergency.

“Remarkably, last week, BP chief executive Tony Hayward claimed that BP didn’t have enough resources in its ‘tool kit’ to handle the Gulf oil disaster,’’ Markey said, adding that his legislation will ensure “that in the future companies like BP will never again be relying on 30-year-old technologies to deal with 21st-century problems.’’

On Sunday, Markey toured the Pascagoula Wildlife Management Area, where he saw oil coating marsh cane and closing in on waters where local fish spawn.

“How dangerous it will be for the health of fish, the health of human beings, and the health of the economy were the oil to reach that far. And it wasn’t that far,’’ Markey told the Globe after the hearing. “If we were in the Arctic, we would say it was the tip of the iceberg.’’

Markey said the tour brought home just how pervasive this disaster is. When he flew over the spill on his first visit in May, he said, oil stretched “as far as the eye could see’’ — but even that has now been “dwarfed.’’

Yesterday, Markey and eight congressional peers, including subcommittee chair Bart Stupak, listened to testimony from two local businessmen whose work is dwindling, an environmental activist, a marine biologist, and the wives of two men killed on the Deepwater Horizon rig.

Both of the women said they supported continued drilling in the Gulf, but that improving safety aboard oil rigs is a must. That, they added, doesn’t mean increased regulations, but rather increased enforcement of existing rules.

The women also pressed for answers from BP about the accident.

“I know that my husband can’t come back,’’ said Natalie Roshto, whose husband, Shane, was killed. “But why? What went wrong? Why weren’t you out there trying to do something in the weeks before when they were having problems?’’

After Louisiana congressman Steve Scalise said the ban on drilling needs to be revisited — “You don’t hold an industry accountable for the failures of one [company],’’ he said — Stupak said he expects drilling will go on only after the industry is scrutinized.

“What went wrong? How do we ensure it doesn’t happen again?’’ Stupak said. “We just have to slow down for a minute here, see what’s going on.’’

Several members of the committee, including Markey, called for a repeal of the $75 million cap on liability that they say could protect BP from having to pay the real costs of the disaster.

At one point during the four-hour hearing, Markey became impassioned, raising his voice as he castigated BP for its handling of the oil spill and its responsibility to everyone affected.

“BP did not stand for ‘be prepared,’ we know that for sure,’’ he said. Adding later in an interview: “Either BP has been lying or incompetent about most of the issues from the first day of the leak. They low-balled the number of barrels of oil per day. They fought allowing the American public seeing the spill.’’

BP did not immediately respond when called for comment.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.