Wicker Presses for $15 Million for Oil Spill Cleanup

Letter Calls for Transfer of Appropriations Funds to NOAA

April 28, 2010

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today pressed for the transfer of $15 million in existing appropriations funding from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF) to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for oil spill planning, research, and response obligations.

NOAA is working alongside other federal agencies to respond to the Deepwater Horizon Incident, stemming from an offshore drilling rig explosion last week. The agencies are working to recover oil that is leaking from a damaged underwater oil well into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of approximately 1,000 barrels a day. NOAA is the only agency involved in oil spills that does not receive an annual appropriation from the OSLTF.

Sen. Wicker joined five colleagues in sending a letter to Sens. Byrd and Voinovich, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, and to Sens. Mikulski and Shelby, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science.  The lawmakers asked that the funds be made available to NOAA.  The funding transfer would not require an increase in appropriations.

The following is the text of the letter sent by Sen. Wicker and colleagues:

“As you consider the FY2011 appropriations for the Department of Commerce and Department of Homeland Security, we respectfully request you transfer $15 million from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF) to NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) to support its oil spill planning, research, and response obligations.

“NOAA’s OR&R provides scientific support for oil and chemical response and damage assessment in coastal water. During a major oil spill, OR&R provides critical scientific support to the Coast Guard and other federal, state and local agencies by determining where the spill might go, identifying sensitive habitats to protect, assessing impacts to natural resources, and developing cleanup strategies. OR&R also coordinates national and regional response plans, prepares area contingency plans, conducts training for federal, state and local partners, participates in national and regional spill drills, and develops assessment tools and techniques to simulate spill trajectory. OR&R response to approximately 200 oil spills annually. Most immediately, OR&R’s efforts have been integral to the Federal response to the Deepwater Horizon incident. Following the explosion and sinking of the mobile offshore drilling unit in the Gulf of Mexico, OR&R has provided invaluable information to the Coast Guard, the Minerals Management Service, and other response agencies.

“However, current funding levels are not sufficient to permit OR&R to properly prepare for, respond to, and restore coastal areas impacted by oil spills. The additional funding will allow OR&R to conduct research to improve the effectiveness of oil spill response and restoration; enhance its research into natural resource damage assessment capacity; and, update oil spill trajectory models and environmental sensitivity indices (ESI). The EDI maps of the Gulf Coast, for example, have not been updated since Hurricane Katrina dramatically reshaped the Louisiana coastline. This outdated information will hamper the efficiency of response efforts if oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill should reach the shore.

“The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 authorized the use of the OSLTF to pay for cleanups and restoration when the polluter is unknown or exceeded their limit of liability. This fund supports federal agencies in oil spill recovery training, research and development, and preparedness through annual appropriations. Currently, NOAA is the only federal agency with a key role in oil spill response and preparedness that does not receive an annual appropriation from the OSLTF; therefore, we request the Committee provide funds to NOAA from OSLTF for this purpose.

“The recent announcement by the Administration to increase energy exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf increases the need for OR&R to strengthen and improve modeling, mapping, and research for oil spill response and restoration. This added responsibility, combined with decreasing budgets and staffing over time, has created an expanding gap between the OR&R’s level of preparedness and the response required by the Nation.

“Transferring $15 million from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to enhance NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration FY2011 budget request will strengthen NOAA’s oil spill response and restoration research activities and improve our nation’s level of readiness. Thank you for your consideration.”

The letter was signed by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), and George LeMieux (R-Fla.).

Sen. Wicker serves on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, and the Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmospheres, Fisheries, and Coast Guard.