Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Is Congress To Blame For Oil Spill Botch?

For years, Peter robbed Paul at the expense of oil spill technology development. Trying to blame it on one political party over another? That doesn't fly. The facts are that no one on Capitol Hill has taken seriously the need for funding the research, much less development of technology or methods though the legislation requiring funding was passed by Congress after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1990.

Specifically, in 1990, shortly after Exxon’s 750,000-barrel Alaska catastrophe, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act to funnel up to $28 million in research money annually to pre-empt and respond to possible disasters, as the oil industry “pushed the frontier of deepwater drilling.” This money wouldn’t come from the general coffers, but rather a trust fund, covered by a 5-cent per-barrel tax collected from the oil industry.

Then Congress did what it always does to funds set aside for specific targets who appear to be less pressing than those that appear more worthy to the ruling parties - it raided the funds and stopped funding the account. Does Social Security ring a bell? Yeah, like that. Turns out there is no lock box here, either.

But over the ensuing 20 years, the report states, the piggy bank got raided: Congress never appropriated even half the $28 million, shifting the money elsewhere, leaving the the Coast Guard, Minerals Management Services, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency—the four agencies charged by the law to combat the spill threat—with technology that hadn’t been updated much in nearly two decades.

And, if you are pre-disposed to point fingers in a political way, notice that the funding shrunk to the lowest level in 2007 and is still there at present. Democrats took over both houses of Congress in 2007 and have kept control of them since.

The lack of funding became more acute in the years leading up the BP spill. The Coast Guard saw its allocation plummet from $5.6 million in 1993 to $500,000 annually since 2007. NOAA, which played a major role in the Deepwater Horizon response, currently has no funding for oil spill R&D, and the EPA oil-spill response R&D budget has dropped from $2.5 million in 1993 to an average of less than $1 million annually for the last decade.

This fund was mentioned in the quietly released report by the Obama administration last week. You may remember, it was released on Thanksgiving Eve as everyone was distracted with the holiday. It was an intentional document dump. No doubt that tidbits like this are the reason.

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