Oil Spill Commission report captures attention of those affected by spill (VIDEO)


NEW ORLEANS – In the state that saw the greatest impact from the oil spill, the Presidential Oil Spill Commission’s report is getting a mixed welcome – one of simultaneous interest and reservation.

“We need to make sure the right regulations are in place,” said St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro.

“I think there’s a lot that needs to be done here,” said Aaron Viles of the Gulf Restoration Network.

Among the buzz generated by the report, the recommendation that offshore drilling regulations and the federal agency overseeing it get beefed up. The commission found the federal oversight, at the time of the spill, was lax. The report says there were systematic failures within the oil and gas industry, which led to the spill.

“It wasn’t just BP’s pressure that made their decision making so flawed and inadequate. It was a culture out there,” Viles said, “and there was no one out there who had the resources to effectively call balls and strikes.”

The federal agency in charge of that oversight – the Minerals Management Service – was replaced after the spill by the newly created Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The report was critical of the former MMS and said its inspectors were “outmatched.”

“I think that’s an honest criticism of the agency,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana. “It’s been understaffed and maybe it has not required the high degree of sophistication and experience.”

The report also calls for 80 percent of any penalties, paid under the Clean Water Act, to go towards the restoration of the oil spill affected coast. The total amount of money at stake could range between $5 to $20 billion. If that plan is approved, some local officials question just how that money would be distributed.

“We, in St. Bernard, believe that a scientific approach in terms of how to assess damage, should be utilized, so we can keep it off the political playing field in D.C.,” Taffaro said.

One of the industries deeply affected by the spill remains the seafood industry in Louisiana. Despite the spill’s toll, those who rely on the state’s fisheries said while oversight of the oil industry is needed, there is also a need for both of the industries to continue to co-exist here.

“It’s a fairly symbiotic relationship between oil and seafood, so both these industries need to be strong for each other’s sake, as well as the sake of this country and the state of Louisiana,” said Harlon Pearce, owner of Harlon’s LA Fish and Seafood.

In the report, the commission also calls for new regulations to cover any future use of controversial oil spill dispersants.

It also said the EPA and the Coast Guard need to get local officials involved in the planning for an oil spill disaster, in order to prevent some of the confusion and miscommunication that happened early on during the spill.

See video here: http://www.wwltv.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/Oil-Spill-Commission-Report-captures-attention-of-those-affected-by-spill-113310144.html

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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