OFFSHORE DRILLING:

Reform proposals will be hard sell on Hill, spill-panel chairs say

Leaders of the presidential commission that investigated last summer's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico said today that recommendations for reforming offshore drilling will be a tough sell on Capitol Hill.

Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) said the seven-member panel's recommendations for beefing up regulations and significantly increasing funding for drilling regulators won't "square very easily" with antiregulatory sentiments in the Republican-led House and the closely divided Senate.

"We'll begin to find out a week from today when we begin to testify before Senate and House committees as how persuasive those arguments might be," said Graham, a panel co-chairman, who is scheduled to testify in both the House and Senate next week with the other co-chairman, former U.S. EPA Administrator Bill Reilly.

Many of the commission's recommendations are specifically directed toward industry and the Obama administration, but some -- such as increased spending for regulatory agencies and research -- will require congressional action.

Those recommendations have already gotten a chilly response from Republicans who have pledged to decrease federal regulation and to cut spending. Democrats, on the other hand, have vowed to introduce legislation implementing the panel's recommendations.

Addressing the National Council for Science and the Environment's meeting in Washington, D.C., Graham said he has a two-part plan to convince Republicans the report's recommendations are worthwhile.

"We need to emphasize that these decisions not just regulatory. They also are proprietary -- how private firms are going to use a public asset," Graham said. "And ... this is an industry which has seen a significant decline in the effectiveness of regulation at the very time that the riskiness of the operation has been increasing, so there is a gap there that needs to be filled for this specific regulatory function."

Reilly also expressed concern about how the recommendations will be received on Capitol Hill, recalling that calls for investment in spill-safety measures quickly faded in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

"One hopes that won't happen this time," Reilly said, adding that he and Graham will make that point to lawmakers next week.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave his own warning today about the imperative to implement the report's findings.

"To ignore the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill or to ignore the lessons of this fine commission would be a grave mistake not only to America but to any of those countries and those interests that are interested in developing oil and gas resources around the world, so now is not the time to retreat from our efforts," Salazar said. "Now is not the time to let the commission's report simply gather dust on a shelf. Instead, as Chairman Reilly puts it, now is the time to make a lot of noise."

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