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A Disaster Congress Voted For

Author: David S. Abraham, International Affairs Fellow in Japan, Sponsored by Hitachi, Ltd. 2010-2011
July 13, 2010
New York Times

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Congress has proven adept at placing blame for the gulf oil spill--depending on whom you listen to on Capitol Hill, BP bears the bulk of the responsibility, or the Interior Department and its increasingly inadequate regulations, or both.

There's no question that each of these deserves blame. But there's also no question that the responsibility for developing safe offshore operations extends much further, to Congress itself.

For more than a decade, legislators have allowed themselves to be lulled by industry assurances that drilling in deep water posed little danger. One could say that Congress, just like the companies it has attacked, was obsessed with oil.

Before the spill, Congress had not debated regulatory safety on wells in the gulf since the 1990s, and when it did, lawmakers focused on how to drill for more oil--which, after all, meant more jobs and more federal revenue for pet projects.

In a 1995 attempt to encourage more exploration, Congress agreed to reduce the cut of the proceeds the government could collect on oil and gas drilling in deep waters. Ten years later, despite higher oil prices and declarations from President George W. Bush that more incentives were not needed, a Republican-led Congress reduced royalties yet again.

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