Oil Spill Gets Criminal Probe As Senate Mulls Bailout

What in the world is going on?

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While the federal government launches a criminal investigation into the cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, some in the Senate are still making designs for a big polluter bailout.

On Friday, 13 leading environmental officials joined the ranks of the many who have protested this effort in Senate, which was put forth in a proposal by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) months ago and will come to a Senate vote on June 10.

Her proposed legislation would keep us hooked on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels, and protect the oil and coal industries from having to clean up their pollution, by removing the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate global warming-causing greenhouse gases. The EPA has this authority by way of the Clean Air Act, one of our nation’s most effective and successful environmental laws, and the Supreme Court’s 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA ruling.

In a letter to Senate leaders, the bipartisan group of state environmental agency heads and leaders from both coasts and parts in between defends the 40-year-old Clean Air Act, and argues that any reversal or delay of the EPA’s science-based findings on the threat of global warming would be unacceptable.

They write:

It would be short-sighted for Congress to remove one of the few effective tools the nation has to address our critical energy and environmental challenges, especially in the absence of effective Senate action on comprehensive climate change legislation to provide an alternative framework. We ask you to ensure that all of the tools to address the tremendous challenge of climate change remain available to our nation.

The oil and coal industries love this piece of legislation because it guarantees that they are once again off the hook and not accountable for messes that they are causing. They’ve eluded responsibility for their pollution for decades; and this congressional act would just prolong the time that they can coast with their excessive pollution, free of penalty or cost. Of course, we’re seeing the costs of fossil fuels all too clearly as oil destroys the Gulf of Mexico and decimates a $3 billion fishing industry for what could be decades. We’ve yet to see the full costs of climate change, but more science every day gives us a glimpse of it, and it won’t be cheap or pretty.

In the absence of a Senate bill on clean energy and climate change, EPA regulation is currently the only tool we have to promote a clean-energy economy, bolster green jobs and fight climate change.

My colleague Sarah Saylor, Earthjustice senior legislative representative, eloquently puts it:

At a time when our nation should be putting all our efforts into clean-energy solutions, her legislation bails out the oil and coal industries and tethers our economy to the dirty, fossil fuels of the past, against the backdrop of the largest oil spill in U.S. history … When the Senate votes on June 10 it should be a vote of confidence in the existing law, which will be a vote in favor of the health, economy, future, and prosperity of the American people.

It’s more important now than ever to write to your senators and urge them to oppose this legislation on June 10. The more people speak up, the more our Senate will know that we expect from them the same kind of leadership these state officials have already demonstrated. Take action now and demand that your senators’ votes move our country forward, not backward!

Liz Judge worked at Earthjustice from 2010–2016. During that time, she worked on mountaintop removal mining, national forests, and clean water issues, and led the media and advocacy communications teams.