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Bill Nelson threatens to block rollback of offshore drilling regulations

Bill Nelson is prepared to invoke a procedural rule in an attempt to block the Donald Trump administration’s latest efforts to rollback several safety standards put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster.

The Florida Democrat’s announcement on the Senate floor Wednesday was made just days after the U.S. Department of Interior released for public comment its latest proposal to reverse a series of safety regulations put in place to prevent another incident like the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.

Among the provisions the agency is seeking to remove is one that requires a third-party to certify that an oil rig’s blowout preventer is functioning properly.

“Almost five million barrels of oil spilled as a result of a defective device called a blowout preventer,” Nelson said. “Now, what the Interior Department and this administration is trying to do is undo the updated standards for shear rams and blowout preventers and is trying to get rid of a required third party to certify the safety mechanisms.”

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which regulates offshore oil and natural gas drilling, says the proposed rule changes are intended to reduce “unnecessary burden” on the energy industry, saving $228 million over 10 years without compromising safety.

“By reducing the regulatory burden on industry, we are encouraging increased domestic oil and gas production while maintaining a high bar for safety and environmental sustainability,” said BSEE Director Scott A. Angelle last Thursday.

In order to stop the rollback, Nelson says he will invoke a procedural rule known as the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress the power to overturn an agency’s final rule. Legislators seeking to block an agency rule from taking effect can file a so-called Resolution of Disapproval within 60 days of a final rule being sent to Congress.

If a Resolution of Disapproval is approved by a majority in both the House and Senate and signed into law by the president, the agency’s rule would be overturned.

“I hope the public understands that and starts registering some complaints, and I hope that during that time every Floridian remembers what happened to us when the beaches of Pensacola beach were blackened with tar and oil and we lost a whole season of our guests, our tourists who come to this extraordinary state of natural environment, the beautiful Florida beaches,” Nelson said.

“I hope that every Floridian will remember, whether you were a hotelier, restaurateur, whether you are the dry cleaners, whether you had the taxi services, when you got hit in your pocketbook, I hope that every American who rightly has an interest in protecting our beaches, our oceans, our marine life, decides to write in and complain to Secretary (Ryan) Zinke exactly what he’s putting at risk with this proposal.”

Over the weekend, Vern Buchanan also criticized the rollback.

In a statement, the Longboat Key Republican congressman called the proposal by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environment Enforcement “rash and reckless.”

If it is not withdrawn, Buchanan said he would urge Congress to intercede.

“Have we forgotten the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe so soon?” Buchanan added, referring to the 2010 explosion of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 people and led to one of the worst oil spills and environmental disasters in U.S. history.

“This is a recipe for disaster.”

The rule ensuring safety devices took six years to implement, and Nelson says it could go away in less than a month, as the proposal is open to public comment only until January 29.

“You’re not going to get six years this time,” he said. “You’re only going to get 30 days.”


Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at

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