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OIL SPILL: Murray Continues Push to Protect WA Taxpayers from Oil Spill Costs, Urges Ban on West Coast Drilling in Speech on Senate Floor

May 25 2010

Murray also discusses need to remember workers killed and injured in Gulf Coast tragedy, hold oil companies accountable for worker treatment



(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) spoke on the Senate floor to urge Republicans to end their obstruction and allow the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act to pass. This bill, co-sponsored by Senator Murray, would make sure Washington state taxpayers won’t have to pay to clean up after oil spills, and it would guarantee that oil companies are held fully accountable for the economic costs resulting from their accidents. Murray also continued to push for a ban on oil drilling off the West Coast. And she discussed the urgent need to improve safety conditions for oil workers and hold oil companies accountable for violations and mistreatment of their employees.

Key excerpts

On protecting Washington state taxpayers:

“I am going to keep fighting for the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act to pass.  And I’m going to keep fighting for families and taxpayers in Washington state and across the country.  Because the bottom line is this—if oil companies are going to make billions in profits when times are good, they shouldn’t be allowed to leave taxpayers hanging when they create a problem.  The Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act writes this common-sense policy into law—and I urge every Senator to side with the taxpayers and support this important legislation.”

On banning West Coast drilling:

“Washington state’s coastal region supports over 150,000 jobs and generates almost 10 billion in economic activity—all of which would be threatened if drilling were allowed to happen off the West Coast.  That’s why I’m going to keep fighting for legislation that bans drilling off the West Coast and makes sure big oil companies are never allowed to roll the dice with Washington state’s economy and environment.”

On holding oil companies accountable for their treatment of workers

“We also need to remember the workers who were killed and injured in this tragedy. We can’t forget that this is an issue that is larger than this one tragedy—the entire oil and gas industry has a deplorable record of worker and workplace safety. We need to make sure every worker is treated properly and protected—and that companies that mistreat workers are held accountable.”

The full text of Senator Murray’s speech follows:

“Mr. President, I come to the floor today to strongly support the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act.

“With all we have seen in the Gulf Coast over the past few weeks, I am more committed than ever to moving forward on three fronts to protect taxpayers, families, and workers across the country.

“First—I am going to keep working to hold BP accountable and make sure taxpayers in Washington state and across the county are not left holding the bag for this devastation. This is exactly what we are fighting for with this bill today.

“Second—I am going to fight to guarantee that what we are seeing in the Gulf Coast is never allowed to happen on the West Coast.

“And third—I am going to make sure that BP, Transocean, and all industry owners and operators are doing everything possible to protect their workers and make sure tragedies like this don’t happen again.

“Because Mr. President, here are the facts.

“On April 20, 2010, there was a massive blowout and explosion on a BP oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead, and 17 more are injured.

“The explosion caused a gushing spill that has poured hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf—and threatens to spill millions more.

“It has created an environmental and economic tragedy the magnitude of which we have only just begun to comprehend.

“It is threatening entire communities and industries.

“And the oil and chemicals dispersants being sprayed into the Gulf have the potential to kill underwater wildlife and create underwater “dead zones” for decades to come.

“Those are the facts.

“Now Mr. President, the questions are: Who should be responsible to clean this up? Who should bear the burden for big oil’s mistakes?

“Should it be the taxpayers? Families and small business owners who are already being asked to bear so much?

“Or should it be the companies responsible for this spill? Including BP—a company that made 6.1 billion dollars in profit in the first three months of 2010 alone?

“Mr. President, I co-sponsored the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act because to me, the answer is clear.

“I believe BP needs to be held accountable for the environmental and economic damage of this spill. And I will fight to make sure taxpayers don’t end up losing a single dime to pay for the mess this big oil company created.

“To me, this is an issue of fundamental fairness: if an oil company causes a spill, they should be the one to pay to clean it up—not the taxpayers.

“This bill eliminates the current 75 million dollar cap on oil company liability.

“So taxpayers will never be left holding the bag for big oil’s mistakes.

“This is straightforward. It’s common sense. It’s fair. And I have to say, Mr. President, I am extremely disappointed that this common-sense bill continues to be blocked by the Republicans every time we bring it up.

“But I am going to keep fighting for the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act to pass. And I’m going to keep fighting for families and taxpayers in Washington state and across the country.

“Because the bottom line is this—if oil companies are going to make billions in profits when times are good, they shouldn’t be allowed to leave taxpayers hanging when they create a problem.

“The Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act writes this common-sense policy into law—and I urge every Senator to side with the taxpayers and support this important legislation.

“But Mr. President, I don’t think this is enough.

“I’ve always been opposed to drilling off of the coast of my home state of Washington, and this tragedy is just one more painful reminder of the potential consequences of opening up the West Coast to drilling.

“The economic and environmental devastation caused by the Exxon Valdez disaster 20 years ago is still impacting industry in my state.

“Washington state’s coastal region supports over 150,000 jobs and generates almost 10 billion in economic activity—all of which would be threatened if drilling were allowed to happen off the West Coast.

“That’s why I’m going to keep fighting for legislation that bans drilling off the West Coast and makes sure big oil companies are never allowed to roll the dice with Washington state’s economy and environment.

“Mr. President, we need to hold big oil accountable and make sure disasters like this never happen again.

“But we also need to remember the workers who were killed and injured in this tragedy.

“We can’t forget that this is an issue that is larger than this one tragedy—the entire oil and gas industry has a deplorable record of worker and workplace safety.

“We need to make sure every worker is treated properly and protected—and that companies that mistreat workers are held accountable.

“Mr. President, we know that the oil industry is able to operate under stricter safety standards and regulations, because they are already doing so in Europe, Australia, and even in Contra Costa County, California, where the county has a set of stricter guidelines that have reduced injuries and fatality rates

“But we also know that worker safety shouldn’t be measured just by injury rates—we should be looking at reducing dangerous conditions like fires,  hazardous spills,  and release of toxic gases. And when accidents do happen—we need to record them, learn from them, and build on a program to prevent them from ever happening again.   And we need to make sure our workers are treated with respect and their rights are protected.

“So Mr. President, that’s why I’m so concerned about the recent reports of callous and unacceptable treatment of Transocean workers in the hours following the April 20th explosion.

“These reports suggest that Transocean put their bottom line above safety standards, environmental impact  and the well-being of their workers. 

“So I have called on the company to release copies of legal waivers that surviving crew members of the Deepwater Horizon were reportedly forced to sign following the oil rig explosion. And I’m going to stay on top of this to make sure Transocean produces the requested documents so we can get to the bottom of exactly how this situation was handled.

“Workers everywhere should be able to feel confident that their employers are putting their safety first,  and companies that betray this trust need to be held accountable.

 “So Mr. President, I am going to work to make sure that happens.

“I am going to continue fighting to keep drilling away from the Washington state coastline. And I am going to keep pushing for this bill to make sure taxpayers don’t have to pay for big oil’s mistakes.

“Mr. President, anyone deciding whether or not to support this bill should ask themselves a few simple questions: Who are you fighting for? Who are you trying to help? Are you here today to protect and shield the big oil companies? Or are you going to fight for families and taxpayers?

“I support this bill because, to me, the answer is clear. And I urge my colleagues to allow this bill to pass today so taxpayers in Washington state and across the country can be protected.

“Thank you, I yield the floor.”