Floor Speech: On Democrat Proposed Energy Legislation

***As Preapared for Delivery***

Mr. President, it has now been 99 days since the Deepwater Horizon drill rig exploded, caught fire, and sank to the ocean floor. That incident – and the millions of barrels of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico since it began – have made absolutely clear that our nation’s offshore energy regulations need to be reformed. Even in a Congress as deeply and bitterly divided as this one, the fact that we are living through a terrible environmental disaster, caused at least in part by certain failures of the government, should be more than enough for us to work in good faith and reach consensus on a path forward.

For the past three months, that’s exactly what the members of the Energy Committee have sought to develop – a responsible path forward that is acceptable to all, or at least most, of the members of the Senate. We started by holding four major hearings on the Gulf spill, which allowed us to build a record on everything from blowout preventers to certificates of financial responsibility. Our committee then spent countless hours working on legislation to repair the failed offshore regulatory system. We concluded our efforts last month by unanimously passing Senate Bill 3516, the OCS Reform Act, out of committee. It was not easy and it was not perfect, but it was a fair and open process. I like to think our hard work and negotiating, our open markup and amendment process, was truly Senatorial. But once that bill left committee it became clear that some people just can’t take yes for an answer.

About the time we were marking up the MMS bill, we witnessed a deeply misguided effort to tie oil spill legislation to cap-and-trade – a brazen attempt to literally convert one disaster into another. We were told that cap-and-trade was somehow going to end our dependence on oil, hold polluters accountable, and prevent future spills. Then an analysis of cap-and-trade from the EPA showed that cap-and-trade would have almost no effect on our nation’s oil consumption – not now and not over the course of the next 40 years. After nearly 19 months of vote counting, the majority was forced to admit the obvious: there are not 50 votes, let alone 60, for cap-and-trade in this Congress.

Most recent has been the slapping together of the “Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act”, the bill that members of the press and lobbyists received before any of my staff. A draft came out last night around 10 pm, and I’m told it will officially be introduced sometime this morning. Again, this has been a thorough disappointment. Instead of an open and transparent process, what should have been a bipartisan bill was hashed out in secret and then written behind closed doors. Very few members of the Senate, least of all the Gulf States, were allowed to provide input.

Since its 409 pages of text were released late last night, we’ve not had time to thoroughly review it, develop amendments or negotiate improvements, or even decide if it is worth supporting. We have instead been told that the Majority Leader is unlikely to allow amendments to be considered, and I can only imagine that’s because there are provisions tucked into this bill that he just doesn’t want to draw attention to, much less talk about and vote on. The phrase “rush to judgment” has been used a lot in this chamber in recent years, but I challenge my colleagues to find a more flagrant example than this bill.

Mr. President, bills like this one illustrate why Congress has an 11 percent approval rating right now. Instead of working together to fix the problem, the Majority Leader’s bill would undoubtedly create more problems. The Senate’s process and traditions have been abandoned. Decisions have been made almost exclusively in secret, behind closed doors. Republicans were shut out of the room but of course will now be blamed for holding up the bill. Does anyone honestly expect to pass something by Friday, or early next week, that didn’t even see light of day until this morning? From just about every procedural vantage point, it seems like the majority’s goal has been to drive a stake through the heart of anything that can attract Republican support.

The staging of this bill has been choreographed to ensure partisan opposition so the majority can blame us for the problems they are making even worse, like job losses from the moratorium, the increase in reliance on foreign oil, and the injustice of federal OCS revenues never reaching coastal states like Alaska and the Gulf, where they derive from in the first place.

Mr. President, the Democratic caucus can try to pass this bill as introduced, without amendment, and with almost no debate. At best, however, that would be another empty, Pyrrhic victory. Like the stimulus, like health care, and like financial reform, it will give members something to talk about, even though it will only worsen the very problems it is meant to deal with. In this case, it will also come at the expense of a far better bill, proposed by myself and the rest of the Republican leadership team.

Our bill starts at the root of the problem – the already apparent shortcomings with offshore regulations and at the Minerals Management Service. It includes the OCS Reform Act reported unanimously by all 23 members of the Senate Energy Committee. Permitting and best available commercial technology requirements are strengthened to enhance the safety and integrity of offshore operations. Our bill would codify a complete reorganization of MMS, and remove the President’s offshore moratorium once new safety standards have been met. It would establish strict liability limits for each project based on a range of risk factors relevant to it, a bipartisan commission to investigate what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon, and, finally, right a long-standing wrong by returning a small share of production revenues to coastal states.

So Mr. President, as much as I will push back against the decision to race to the finish on this bill, I do welcome more debate on these issues. The majority, with its commanding numbers in both houses of Congress and control of the White House, may want and try to somehow blame Republicans for the thousands of lost jobs from Alabama to Alaska and the Administration’s failure to protect and restore the Gulf’s offshore environment, but that strategy will fail. We’re offering a far more responsible and dramatically less costly piece of legislation that truly deserves to be considered and passed by the full Senate. I wish I could the majority would take the same path, instead of deciding – judging from the development of this bill and its actual content – that it’s time to give up on policy for the year and to focus instead on campaign messaging.

Whether we look at the terrible environmental toll of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the obvious failure of our offshore regulatory system, or the growing economic consequences of the administration’s offshore moratorium, it should be crystal clear that now is not the time for political games or partisan stunts. Nor is it time to roll the dice with our nation’s energy policy or the continued vitality of an entire region of the United States. There’s another proposal, the Republican proposal, which accomplishes its goals more effectively and without further weakening our economy. I urge the members to take it up and address this tragedy in an open and bi-partisan process.

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