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Project on Government Oversight




POGO Comment on the House Reforms in Response to the Gulf Oil Disaster

July 30, 2010 


Today the House of Representatives will vote on two critical bills in response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil disaster, the CLEAR Act (Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2009), H.R. 3534, and the Offshore Oil and Gas Worker Whistleblower Protection Act of 2010, H.R. 5851.  POGO strongly supports both of these reforms that together would overhaul the failed regulator and dramatically improve oversight, accountability, and transparency in the regulation of the oil and gas industry.

"These bills address so many of the problems that led to oil gushing into the Gulf, threatening livelihoods, ecosystems, and public health and safety – especially the overly-close relationship between the oil and gas industry and its regulator," stated Danielle Brian, POGO Executive Director.  "We are really pleased to see such strong reforms being offered. BP and the other companies that make huge profits operating off our shores must have adequate oversight and be held accountable to taxpayers. Taxpayers must be protected and get their fair share." 

"Today there is a tremendous opportunity for the House to address some of the long-standing problems at Interior and create a far better framework for oversight and accountability in offshore oil and gas drilling. Votes for the CLEAR Act and the whistleblower protections for oil and gas workers are votes for preventing another Deepwater Horizon-like disaster," said Brian.

Several of POGO's recommendations that have been adopted in the legislation, including:

  • Statutorily ending the Royalty-In-Kind (RIK) program, which failed to collect the royalties owed to taxpayers.
  • Breaking up MMS and ending the conflict of mission at Interior by statutorily establishing three separate bureaus focused on leasing, auditing, and inspections.
  • Ensuring taxpayers get their fair share of royalties by restoring and strengthening the auditing of royalty payments, reviewing royalty rates, establishing appropriate bid-minimums, and increasing the penalties. Also, requires a study on the accuracy of collection of royalties, and how certain measures would improve royalty assessments and collection.
  • Slowing the revolving door between industry and Interior by extending the application of current revolving door rules beyond the highest paid employees at Interior, expanding the lobbying ban to two years, and adding teeth to the restrictions with civil and criminal penalties.
  • Protecting whistleblowers so that oil and gas industry employees can come forward when they witness wrongdoing, including safety hazards, waste, fraud, abuse, and other concerns.
  • Tackling conflicts of interests by expanding the gift ban and financial interests disallowed, and permits industry representatives to consult, but not serve as personnel for training programs for regulators.
  • Building expertise and training for inspectors and other regulators by requiring the Secretary of the Interior to establish training academies.
  • Improving transparency by requiring information relevant to inspections, failures, or accidents involving equipment and systems to be publicly available, creating a public electronic database on leases, and publishing online information relating to oil and gas chemical use for drilling or completing the well.
  • Providing for some public participation in the oversight by requiring the Gulf Coast Restoration Task Force to create a Citizens Advisory Council. While this is a step in the right direction, a more structured body for citizen participation in oversight, like the advisory council created in the wake of the Valdez spill, still needs to be established in the final legislation.
  • Measuring the effectiveness of the reforms by requiring the GAO to complete a study to determine whether the reforms to the Department of Interior mandated in this legislation have increased oversight and decreased conflicts of interest within the department.

(Follow the link to see the POGO's original recommendations for improvements to the CLEAR Act.)

POGO applauds the work of the members who have continued to strengthen and improve the reforms being offered for consideration today, but particular thanks for the work of Reps. Rahall (D-WV), Miller (D-CA), Hare (D-IL), Maloney (D-NY), Pingree (D-ME), members of the Natural Resources Committee, and their staff.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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