Comment of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Clean Energy Jobs And Oil Accountability Act

I am pleased that the Senate will consider a commonsense package to respond to the devastating Gulf Coast oil spill and to promote environmental protection and clean energy jobs. This new legislation includes several measures that I and others have promoted in recent months, and which have been the focus of several Senate Judiciary Committee hearings and markups. 

The Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Accountability Act includes a provision drawn from the Survivors Equality Act, which I introduced earlier this year to update arcane maritime laws to bring justice to the families of the 11 men who died on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and to others in the future.  I introduced the Survivors Equality Act because these surviving widows, children and family members deserve to be treated fairly under our laws. 

I am also pleased that the oil accountability legislation includes my bipartisan proposal to deter schemes by Big Oil and others that damage our environment and hurt hardworking Americans.  This provision will increase sentences for environmental crimes.  To deter criminal behavior by corporations, it is important to have laws resulting in prison time, and this bill would appropriately raise sentences for environmental crime to levels comparable with other serious crimes.  This bill also aims to help victims of environmental crime – the people who lose their livelihoods, their communities, and even their loved ones – reclaim their natural and economic resources by making restitution mandatory for criminal Clean Water Act violations.  

I am also pleased that this legislative package includes a bill to remedy the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the case resulting from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill – a decision on which we have held two Judiciary Committee hearings.  When enacted, this bill will also help lower consumers' energy costs and create jobs in Vermont by making investments in Home Star, a bipartisan energy efficiency effort that Congressman Welch has helped lead in the House.  As a longtime champion of public land investments under the Land and Water Conservation Fund, I also welcome the historic investments this bill would make in conserving public lands for this generation and future generations by fully supporting the Fund’s conservation land purchases.

I am sorely disappointed that the Senate has been blocked from acting on a comprehensive climate bill.  It is well past time for the Senate to act on effective wide reaching clean energy and climate legislation.  While thousands along the Gulf Coast suffer from the continuing impact of the BP oil spill, Americans' dependence on oil continues to grow.  I hope there will be bipartisan support in the Senate to move forward with the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Accountability Act this month, as well as on climate change legislation later this year.

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