Oil spill panel releases recommendations

The national oil spill commission released its long-awaited final report Tuesday morning in a media conference at the National Press Club.

The roughly 300-page report analyzing last year's massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill gathers many reforms that the seven-member commission, which President Obama appointed in May, has presented over the last several months in public hearings. But now with ink on paper, the recommendations will carry more weight. What happens now is up to the oil industry and the federal government, including Congress.

One of the co-chairs, William Reilly, pointedly rejected claims that the oil spill was President Obama's Katrina. In the months that followed the April 20 blowout, critics said the Obama administration's response to the oil spill was as slow and inadequate as President Bush and his administration's response to the 2005 hurricane.

"After a slow start, they responded quite effectively to this spill," Reilly said. "Make no mistake, despite some allegations, this was not Obama's Katrina."

Critics will be quick to point out that other bodies, such as the National Academy of Sciences, have yet to release their investigations on what caused the disaster and what reforms are needed. So, the oil industry and others will argue, drastic change should not occur until all reports are in. More reports are expected this spring.

Here are some of the most significant and controversial aspects of the report.

  • The root causes of BP's Macondo well blowout are systemic throughout the industry, and if both the oil industry and federal government don't implement major reforms, another spill could happen again. (This was released last week to not steal the spotlight from the rest of the report, a commission spokesman said.)
  • A new industry-run safety institute should be created, with self policing akin to the nuclear industry's Institute of Nuclear Power Operations.
  • Liability caps should be raised from the current $75 million, but no specific number was offered; that divisive issue will be up to Congress.
  • 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines associated with the spill should be dedicated to restoration of the gulf, focusing on ecological restoration instead of broader economic recovery.
  • Other governmental agencies, especially the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, should have a broader role in Interior Department leasing activities.
  • The report recommends "significantly" more funding for Congress to carry out reforms, again leaving lawmakers to decide the amount.
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