Friday, April 12, 2024

Guest Blogger Series: Senator Robert Menendez on “From Tragedy to Opportunity in the Gulf of Mexico”

As featured in El Diario/La Prensa

By Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

Like Americans everywhere, I am sickened and angered over the environmental and economic catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.  Watching the images and hearing the heartbreaking stories of devastation and despair sweeping through this vital yet fragile region of our country, I’m seized by an urgency to act.

For years I’ve been calling for a national energy policy that breaks our destructive addiction to oil and sets us on the path to sustainable and renewable sources of power and fuel. It can’t happen overnight, but we need to get started. If not now, when?

In the weeks since the tragic explosion of the British Petroleum offshore oil rig left 11 workers lost at sea, it is estimated that tens of millions of gallons of crude oil have poured into the fertile Gulf waters that supply some 40 percent of our nation’s seafood catch.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has restricted fishing from the mouth of the Mississippi River to Pensacola Bay, an area that produced more than 1 billion pounds of seafood in 2008 alone.

As the oil slick widens and threatens the shoreline, coastal communities are bracing for widespread damage to beaches, wetlands and estuaries, threatening birds, turtles, deer and more than 400 other types of animals living in some of the most productive habitat in the world.

And minority fisherman in these areas have been struggling to keep their livelihoods as federal waters have been closed to commercial fishing due to the catastrophic spill.

For these economic and environmental losses, no remedy currently exists.

Under current law, in fact, BP could get off paying just a fraction of economic and environmental damage that could soon top $1 billion.  The law that sets this cap is nothing more than an oil spill bailout for Big Oil.

Working with my Senate Democratic colleagues, Frank Lautenberg of my own state of New Jersey and Bill Nelson of Florida, I’ve introduced legislation to change this. Our Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act would raise the oil spill liability cap from its current level of $75 million to $10 billion.

That would immediately do two things.

First, it would hold oil companies accountable for the damage their activities cause. Why should BP – which made a staggering $5.6 billion in profits in just the first three months of this year – pay for only a fraction of the losses this catastrophic oil spill will cause?

Second, it would force oil companies to factor in the risk of the true costs of their activities when they make business decisions about where and when to drill for oil. Under the current system, these companies bear only a portion of those risks: the rest are borne by taxpayers, fishermen and our environment.

Longer term, though, we must see this disaster for what it truly is, not simply a failure of a single oil rig, but the result of a failed national energy policy.  Presidents stretching back to Jimmy Carter have called on us, as a nation, to cut our dependence on oil. Now it’s time to heed the call.

As a community, we must heed this wake-up call and urge Congress to deliver comprehensive climate and energy legislation that protects our oceans and coastal communities and breaks our dangerous addiction to oil. It’s time we got started today.

Since 1992, Senator Menendez, has been fighting for New Jersey families in Washington, where he rose to become the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives before taking office in the Senate in 2006. In Congress, he has made it his priority to make health care more affordable for New Jersey’s families and to improve schools so they prepare our children for a successful future.