Rockefeller Remarks on Lessons in Prevention, Response, and Restoration from the Gulf Oil Spill

July 20, 2011

USCG Deep Horizon ResponseWASHINGTON, D.C.—The goal of today’s hearing is to get an update on the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent leak that covered 1,600 miles of the Gulf Coast with oil.  It’s unacceptable to me that more than a year after the worst environmental disaster in the Gulf, the responsible parties have not yet been held fully accountable.  The Gulf of Mexico—the people, the coast, and the wildlife, is still waiting to be fully restored—and may never be.  

As a nation, we must take whatever steps are necessary to make sure a catastrophe like this never happens again.  That applies not just to the environmental and economic impacts but also to the lost lives.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones.  Their pain will endure long after this hearing is over.  

The direct and immediate economic consequences of the spill were significant.  In the months following the spill, up to 37 percent of the federal waters and significant portions of state waters in the Gulf were closed to fishing, tourism and retail, which all suffered steep declines in the wake of the spill

The true environmental impacts may not be known for decades, but we can be sure that the devastation was widespread. 

As a result of the Gulf spill, more than 35 percent of the Gulf Coast’s 1600 plus mile shore line were oiled to some degree; thousands of seabirds were killed, as well as hundreds of dolphins, and many endangered sea turtles.  Meanwhile, federal agencies and states are working to assess the damage from the spill and initiate restoration efforts. 

Our nation found itself in uncharted waters in its early response to the spill, and now we continue to navigate a uncertain path towards full economic recovery and environmental restoration for the Gulf.  Agencies, states, and local economies are hampered by the lack of funding and clear authority, as we will hear from today’s witnesses.  This hearing will also identify some of the challenges associated with crafting appropriate scientific benchmarks to guide restoration goals.  

The Gulf has long been a source of food and recreation for much of the nation and is home to critically important coastal and marine habitat, yet human activities over the past century have severely degraded Gulf marine and coastal ecosystems. 

I look forward to hearing the witnesses’ perspectives regarding how best to facilitate the long term restoration of the Gulf.  Looking ahead, there will be an increase in the number of offshore drilling units, and some of those will be in even deeper water.  If we don’t make smart decisions now, we could see a repeat of this disaster occur in Alaska or the Atlantic seaboard.  If we are going to open new areas to oil and gas exploration that historically were off limits, we must do it right.  We must proceed in a responsible way that protects our environment and our coastal communities.

Last year in the weeks following the Gulf blowout I introduced the SHORE Act, to provide agencies, states, and stakeholders with the resources needed to restore the Gulf, and to prevent a disaster like this from happening in the future.  

I look forward to working with Senator Begich and other Members of the Committee to update and mark-up this legislation.  

I want to thank our witnesses for your willingness to testify before the Committee today.