Alexander to Sec. Salazar: “Make Sure the Economic Consequences of the Moratorium Are Not Worse than the Environmental Consequences of the Spill”

Posted on June 23, 2010

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, of which he is the ranking Republican, addressed Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on oversight of offshore drilling in the wake of the Gulf oil spill.

On the White House’s Offshore Drilling Moratorium:

  • “Nothing is 100 percent safe. I perfectly understand the difficulty here. But a billion gallons of coal ash were spilled at a coal plant in Tennessee and we didn’t stop burning coal – we tried to figure out how we don’t ever have that happen again and EPA is going to take over that type of regulation. A coal mine killed a number of miners not long ago in West Virginia – we didn’t stop mining coal, but we took immediate steps to try to see if we could keep that from happening again. A natural gas plant blew up in Connecticut – but we’re expanding the use of natural gas. If an airplane crashes, we sometimes look at the model of the airplane or the type of pilot or the training of those pilots – we don’t stop 1.6 million Americans from flying for six months. Because there are countervailing balances here, and those are higher prices, lost jobs.  The tankers bringing the oil are more likely to spill oil in our history than offshore drilling – and we’ll be relying more on foreign oil if we don’t explore for oil here. So I don’t question the pause. I think a pause is wise. I would hope that in devising any other moratorium that you take in account the judge’s reasoning and the countervailing public interests that involve jobs, and make sure that the economic consequences of the moratorium are not worse than the environmental consequences of the spill.”
  • “There have been 50,000 wells drilled offshore since 1947.  And we have this incredibly unusual event it would seem, producing more spilled oil every day than all other wells have spilled in the last 30 years combined, according to your data.  So, that makes me wonder and think about Judge Feldman’s decision where he said, ‘Are all planes dangerous because one was?  Are all oil tankers like Exxon Valdez? All trains, all mines?  That kind of thinking seems heavy handed and overbearing,’ as you fashion a moratorium and I agree that the prudent thing to do if you have a terrible plane crash is to say, ‘Whoa.  Let’s stop and see what happened to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’” 

On Restructuring the Minerals Management Service:

  • “We don’t want to just move boxes around on an organizational chart.  We want to make sure that whatever is done on an interim basis is consistent with whatever might be done long-term.  There is apparently going to be a law passed reorganizing the Minerals Management Service that will have long-term consequences and in this year’s budget we need to know what the cost is because we have a specific amount of money for very important projects – from national parks to forest fires – that we have to deal with, and this could be a very expensive change.  We need to understand what we’re talking about and know whether the Administration is going to request a sufficient amount of money to do what needs to be done in the interim while we are waiting for the new organizing law to pass to create a long-term structure.”

On Accountability:

  • “We need to explore accountability. I think about the commander of a Navy nuclear sub and how no one has been killed – no nuclear incidents since the 1950s.  Most people think it’s because a commander could ruin his career if there’s a single accident in that reactor.  Everybody knows who’s on the flagpole.  But in terms of drilling and the responsible parties, such as the person doing the drilling or the regulator: Who’s on the flagpole?”