This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) that would have prohibited the Secretary of the Interior from issuing a permit for offshore oil drilling until the secretary has certified that the applicant has calculated a “worst-case scenario” for the proposed oil drilling operations. The applicant would also have been required to demonstrate the ability respond immediately and effectively to this worst-case scenario. This amendment was offered to legislation requiring the Secretary of the Interior to approve or deny offshore oil drilling leases within 30 days of receiving an application.
Following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the Obama administration imposed an offshore drilling moratorium. The administration lifted that moratorium, however, in May 2010. Despite lifting the moratorium, however, Republicans argued that the administration had been too slow in approving leases for drilling, and contributed to high gasoline prices. The Obama administration (and many congressional Democrats) countered that it was seeking to improve drilling safety in order to prevent another oil spill disaster.
Hanabusa urged support for her amendment: “…We are talking here to the people, the people across this nation and in the world who watched the worst-case scenario, what happened in the BP oil spill. What we are simply saying is that before any permit is issued, that the Secretary take the precaution of, first, having assessed what that worst-case scenario could be; and, second, that applicant who is seeking this permit has both the capability and technology, and has demonstrated as such, to address that worst-case scenario…. it is a requirement that the people would like to see. No one wants to sit there and experience a BP oil spill again.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) opposed the amendment, arguing that it was duplicative because the Interior Department already required a worst-case scenario assessment. (While the Interior Department had already imposed this regulation on oil companies, the underlying bill did not require the department to do so. Hanabusa’s amendment would have codified the Interior Department’s regulation in federal law.) Lamborn argued: “This amendment attempts to expand upon the language in the bill that already mandates that the Secretary conduct a safety review to affirm oil spill response and containment capability prior to issuing a permit. We believe that the Department of the Interior already requires that applicants must calculate worst-case discharge before approving a permit. On June 18 of last year, the Department issued a notice to lessees outlining the information requirements and standards to be met before a permit could be approved. In the notice it is required that a lessee `describe the assumption and calculations that you used to determine the volume of your worst-case discharge scenario.' This exact language, this exact intention has already been addressed, so I would oppose this amendment as redundant and unnecessary.”
The House rejected this amendment by a vote of 187-235. Voting “yea” were 177 Democrats and 10 Republicans. 224 Republicans and 11 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected an amendment that would have prohibited the Secretary of the Interior from issuing a permit for offshore oil drilling until the secretary has certified that the applicant has calculated a “worst-case scenario” for the proposed oil drilling operations—and would also have required applicants to demonstrate the ability respond immediately and effectively to this worst-case scenario.