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Monday, March 5, 2012

Oil Spill Legislation in the 112th Congress

Jonathan L. Ramseur
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Congressional interest in oil spill legislation has historically waxed and waned. In the wake of recent oil spills, some Members have expressed an increased level of interest in oil spill legislation. At other times, when petroleum prices are high and oil spills are a more distant memory, oil spill issues have typically generated minimal interest among policymakers.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues to generate some interest in a variety of oil spill-related issues. In addition, two recent pipeline spills—Kalamazoo River (2010) and Yellowstone River (2011)—have spurred related interest.

This report identifies legislation that addresses oil spill-related issues. For the purposes of this report, oil spill-related issues include 

·         oil spill prevention, 
·         oil spill preparedness, 
·         oil spill response, 
·         oil spill liability and compensation, and 
·         Gulf Coast restoration. 
|For the most part, the underlying statutes for these provisions are found in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA; 33 U.S.C. §§2701 et seq.), the Clean Water Act (CWA) and its amendments (33 U.S.C. §§1251 et seq.), or the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) and its amendments (43 U.S.C. §§1331 et seq.).

On January 3, 2012, the President signed as P.L. 112-90 one bill with oil spill-related provisions—H.R. 2845 (the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011). Among other provisions, this act increases civil penalties for violating safety requirements and requires automatic and remote-controlled shutoff valves on newly constructed transmission pipelines. It also directs the Department of Transportation to analyze leak detection systems, and after a review by Congress, issue requirements based on this analysis.

The House passed H.R. 3408 (the PIONEERS Act) on February 15, 2012, which, among other provisions, would create a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund in the U.S. Treasury, financed by 80% of any Deepwater Horizon-related penalties, settlements, and fines under CWA Section 311. The Trust Fund could be used to support Gulf Coast restoration—both natural resources and the regional economy. Unlike similar legislative proposals, monies in the Trust Fund would not be immediately available, but would require further congressional action to appropriate the funds.

In the Senate, the Committee on Environment and Public Works reported S. 1400 (the RESTORE Act) on December 11, 2011 (S.Rept. 112-100). This legislation would distribute potential CWA penalties from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to support various objectives, including restoration projects and economic development in the Gulf states.

Although not within the scope of this report, some Members have offered proposals that seek to spur offshore oil exploration and development. One bill with such provisions was enacted and several other such bills passed the House.

Date of Report: February 21, 2012
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R41684
Price: $29.95

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