05.18.11

Comment Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Senate Debate Of S. 953, The Offshore Production And Safety Act Of 2011

“The Senate begins debate this morning on a Republican bill that would give exclusive jurisdiction of civil cases involving Gulf of Mexico oil spills to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.  This provision is nothing more than forum shopping to benefit big oil.

“Damage claims from environmental disasters should be heard in the states affected.  This provision would hurt the rights of those in Florida, Alabama, and elsewhere, and set a dangerous precedent.  States’ rights were once a bipartisan concern.  Senate Republicans now seem to be turning their back on states’ rights to let Big Oil stack the deck in a federal court. 

“The majority of active judges serving on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have a financial interest in energy corporations that would likely require their recusal in a lawsuit filed under this proposed legislation.  I will not support this ill-conceived attempt to stack the deck against victims of environmental disasters, while also undercutting our current regulations, ignoring safety and environmental protections, and setting arbitrary timelines for drilling permits.”

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BACKGROUND: Many judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have a financial interest in energy corporations.  Conflicts of interest among judges with stock investments in oil and energy related companies are so prevalent in the Fifth Circuit that last year, the court could not achieve a quorum of unrecused judges to exercise its jurisdiction in a case related to Hurricane Katrina.  It has been reported that 10 of the 16 active judges on the circuit have investments in oil which should require their recusal from such cases unless those judges divest themselves from the oil and gas industry.

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