Commerce Committee Work on Oil Spill Continues

Committee Working on Legislation - Announces Next Hearing

June 16, 2010

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, DC — Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, who serves as Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today issued the following statement on the continued work of the Commerce Committee on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Chairman Rockefeller’s statement follows:

“58 days ago, we experienced the beginning of what has become the most catastrophic environmental disaster in our nation’s history. Every day, we see more oil spew into the sea, more tar balls wash ashore, and more lives and livelihoods painfully upended. And every day, we hear new reports about shortcuts in drilling safety BP took to save money.

“I commend the President, Admiral Allen and the Gulf coast states for all they are doing to try and bring this crisis to an end. We all wish there was a magic wand we could wave to stop this terrible situation. Every potential solution must be considered, and we must work together as one nation to bring this disaster to an end.

“The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is hard at work developing solutions to prevent this from ever happening again, and making sure the people who created this terrible mess are held fully responsible for cleaning it up. American taxpayers should not be asked to foot the bill – there will be no ‘BP bailout’. 

“Our Committee is currently looking at legislative options to ensure that we have a greater capacity to respond to spills, protect families of the deceased, keep food safe, and adequately align risk and liability to ensure safe operations moving forward. I support changing federal maritime law so that the families of those lost can recover greater damages than just lost wages, significantly increasing the liability limits on all vessels under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, and closing the potential loophole in the Limitation on Liability Act to make clear that it does not apply to Mobile Offshore Drilling Units. Our legislation will ensure that our nation’s federal agencies with expertise on ocean science and health have greater input in the future of offshore oil and gas permitting decisions, and we are working to improve the ability of NOAA and the Coast Guard to respond to oil spills by giving them the proper resources and authority.

“The Committee will continue to examine the causes of this oil spill, its effects on coastal communities, and in the coming weeks, we will hold our next hearing to examine the effects of the Gulf oil spill on fisheries, tourism, coastal communities and the people who depend on the industry. We can all agree that answers, solutions, and a complete and transparent account of exactly what went wrong and why are much needed and deserved by all.”


In May, Chairman Rockefeller heard from the top executives of Transocean and British Petroleum in a Committee hearing. Rockefeller and Committee Members questioned the executives on the causes of the spill. At that same hearing, then U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco expanded upon the government’s response to the oil spill and their continued efforts to clean-up and contain the mess. Additional information from the Commerce Committee hearing can be found here.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has jurisdiction over the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The USCG has primary response authority over oil spills occurring in coastal waters, and also investigates maritime industry deaths, injuries, property loss, and environmental damage to determine the causes of accidents. NOAA provides scientific analysis and consultation during oil spill response activities. Assistance can include oil spill tracking, predictive modeling to forecast where a spill may go, cleanup alternatives, and knowledge of at-risk marine resources—living and otherwise. Both the Coast Guard and NOAA play critically important roles in the area of oil spill response, prevention, and preparedness.