Committee holding vote, hearing in response to Calif. spill

By Heather Richards | 10/12/2021 05:58 AM EST

Cleanup workers responding to this month's oil spill off the coast of Southern California. Mario Tama/Getty Images

The House Natural Resources Committee will vote on a pair of bills to reform offshore oil and gas drilling in response to the recent crude spill off the California coast.

In addition, the offshore bleed caused by a ruptured pipeline will be the basis for a hearing before the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee this week, part of an effort to explore greater oversight of offshore pipelines (Energywire, Oct. 5).

“As long as the industry is given a free hand to operate with impunity and dodge responsibility for the mess they cause and leave behind, there will be more disasters," said Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) in a statement last week.

He added, “This Committee is moving quickly to protect our coastlines and the communities that rely on them by setting the standards the industry refuses to set for itself.”

The committee will first meet tomorrow on whether to advance a suite of public land and energy bills, including two offshore oil reform proposals introduced earlier this year.

A bill from Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), the "Offshore Pipeline Safety Act," H.R. 2643, would require the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to update pipeline safety rules, including mandates for leak detection systems and regular inspections.

The bill was inspired by a Government Accountability Office report released in the spring — at the request of Grijalva and Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Chair Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) — that warned of a lax regulatory framework. It disclosed that more than 18,000 miles of pipe were permitted to be abandoned in the Gulf over the last few decades.

The second bill getting a markup tomorrow is the "Offshore Accountability Act," H.R. 570, introduced by Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.). It would require offshore drillers to report to Interior when their critical safety systems fail. Interior would then be required to make those reports publicly available.

The Energy and Mineral Resources hearing on Thursday is titled, “Impacts of Abandoned Offshore Oil and Gas Infrastructure and the Need for Stronger Federal Oversight.”

Offshore oil and gas development has come up several times in the committee this year, as part of a broader debate over the future of the federal oil and natural gas program. The push for stricter regulations and curtailment of new leasing or drilling has fallen along party lines with the Democratic majority advancing several reform measures over objections from Republicans.

The committee kept the focus on curtailment when it passed provisions in its portion of the reconciliation package. The bill would charge offshore pipeline operators annual fees and prevent new offshore leasing in federal waters in the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and the eastern Gulf of Mexico (Greenwire, Aug. 26).

The offshore oil spill, the worst California has faced in decades, has amplified Democratic calls to curb the industry’s ability to operate in federal waters (E&E Daily, Oct. 5). Democrats have focused on barring future oil and gas lease auctions, though the federal government hasn’t held an oil sale off the coast of California since 1984. Development is permitted on existing leases.

Last week, Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla of California, as well as Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Maria Cantwell of Washington signed a letter asking that the multitrillion-dollar reconciliation plan include S. 58. Known as the “West Coast Ocean Protection Act,” it would prohibit new oil and gas leasing off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.

Also on the markup agenda are:

  • H.R. 160, the "Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2021," from Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), to reauthorize the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 and establish a coral reef task force.
  • H.R. 442, the "Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Land Transfer Act," from Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), to allow conveyance of property to the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium in Sitka, Alaska.
  • H.R. 897, the "Agua Caliente Land Exchange Fee to Trust Confirmation Act," from Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), to place certain lands in California into trust for the benefit of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
  • H.R. 1286, the "Southern Campaign of the Revolution National Heritage Corridor Act of 2021," from Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), to establish the Southern Campaign of the Revolution National Heritage Corridor in North and South Carolina.
  • H.R. 1931, the "Japanese American Confinement Education Act," from Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), to provide competitive grants for education on the Japanese American confinement and raise awareness about the importance of cultural tolerance toward Japanese Americans.
  • H.R. 1975, the "Pala Band of Mission Indians Land Transfer Act of 2021," from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), to place certain land located in San Diego County, Calif., into trust for the benefit of the Pala Band of Mission Indians.
  • H.R. 2024, the "Southern Maryland National Heritage Area Act," from Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), to establish the Southern Maryland National Heritage Area.
  • H.R. 2074, the "Indian Buffalo Management Act," from Young, to assist tribal governments in the management of buffalo and buffalo habitat and for the reestablishment of buffalo on American Indian lands.
  • H.R. 2088, the "Eastern Band of Cherokee Historic Lands Reacquisition Act," from Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), to take certain federal lands in Tennessee into trust for the the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
  • H.R. 2107, the "Nation’s Oldest Port National Heritage Area Act." from Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.).
  • H.R. 2930, the "Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2021," from Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.), to strengthen protections of Native American cultural artifacts.
  • H.R. 3075, the "Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act," from Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), to combat seafood slavery and illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing.
  • H.R. 3222, the "Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act," from Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.).
  • H.R. 3670, the "Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act," from Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), to improve access for outdoor recreation through the use of special recreation permits on federal lands and waters.
  • H.R. 4881, the "Old Pascua Community Land Acquisition Act," from Grijalva, to order the Interior Department to take some Arizona land into trust for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona.
  • H.R. 5221, the "Urban Indian Health Confer Act," would amend the "Indian Health Care Improvement Act," also from Grijalva, to establish an urban American Indian organization conference policy with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Schedule: The markup is 10 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 13, via webcast.

Schedule: The hearing is 12 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 14, via webcast.

Witnesses: TBA.