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House Passes Oil Spill Response Legislation

The House passed an oil spill response package today in a 209-193 vote, despite strong objections from Republicans.

The package passed after hours of floor debate. Republicans argued that the bills are ill conceived, would kill jobs and are too far-reaching.

If signed into law, the package, among other things, would:

  • Remove the cap — currently at $75 million — on a company’s liability for economic damages from an oil spill
  • Facilitate the restructuring of the now-defunct Minerals Management Service, which was responsible for permitting and licensing offshore oil and gas drilling
  • Require that oil companies use new safety technologies meant to avoid blowouts at an oil well
  • Provide whistleblower protections for workers who report safety violations on oil rigs

The package includes several more narrow bills offered by Reps. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and James Oberstar (D-Minn.), among others.

Now that the package has passed, attention shifts to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is struggling to gain the 60 votes necessary to pass a stripped-down energy bill that includes a number of oil spill response provisions. As in the House, Republicans and some Democrats have opposed a provision in the bill that would remove a cap on oil companies’ liability in the event of a spill. Opponents argue that such a provision will stifle drilling in the Gulf, leading to job losses.

Reid is expected to bring his bill to the floor on Wednesday, though the schedule is very much still in flux.

It remains unclear how the House package will be conferenced with the Senate bill. While the House and Senate packages deal with the oil spill, the House package does not include energy provisions, as that chamber passed a climate and energy bill last year. Reid was not able to secure the votes to include a cap on carbon, even a scaled-down utility-only cap. Neither was he able to secure the votes for a renewable energy mandate.

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