I am gravely concerned about the oil spill disaster that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico and the economic and environmental destruction it has caused. Federal, state and local governments have worked around the clock to stop and clean up the oil spill in the Gulf Coast. Although the United States Coast Guard is charged with overseeing the response effort, every federal agency that is capable of assisting on this major national issue is at work. Through hearings, legislation and funding, the Senate too is working very hard to address the multitude of issues which are the result of the oil spill.
Although no one can ever truly be compensated for the losses which resulted from the April 20th incident, including the tragic loss of eleven lives, it is vitally important that the responsible parties are held accountable. For this reason, I cosponsored the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act of 2010, which requires polluters to pay the full cost of oil spills. Among other things, the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act raises the liability cap from $75 million to $10 billion.
I am also concerned that Transocean Limited, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, might be trying to decrease its corporate funds to make it more difficult for individuals to pursue liability against the company. This is unacceptable. On May 24, 2010, I cosigned a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to investigate the corporate actions of Transocean after it announced its plans to distribute $1 billion to its share holders at a time when it may be responsible for financial damages related to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
To date, more than 22,000 personnel have responded to protect the shoreline and wildlife and more than 1,300 vessels have responded on site, including skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery vessels to assist in containment and cleanup efforts. I understand that some Pennsylvanians do not want BP engaged in the efforts to stop the spill; however, due to its equipment and knowledge, BP has an obligation to help respond to and fix this disaster.
The April 20th incident in the Gulf brought into sharp focus the need for Congress to revisit policies regarding the development of our domestic energy resources. The Senate has conducted and will continue to conduct many hearings related to the April 20th incident. The information acquired at hearings and through investigations regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil rig is crucial to the Senate’s development of its legislative response and its reevaluation of national energy policy. I have followed the situation in the Gulf very closely and will continue to do so. I am committed to protecting our natural resources, enforcing liability, and providing aid to affected communities.
Immediately recognizing the gravity of the April 20th incident, the Coast Guard established a Regional Command Center and Joint Information Center. To access the latest updates from those on the ground, I recommend that you visit the Regional Command Center and Joint Information Center’s website at http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com.
Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. The first Earth Day in 1970 brought into sharp focus the need to protect our environment and led to the introduction of key Federal legislation such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. These bills were critical to addressing many environmental issues in Pennsylvania including abandoned mines, acid mine drainage, power plant and industry emissions, and hazardous waste disposal.
So, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, let us reflect on the great strides American has made in improving the quality of our air, water, and land. But let’s also take a moment to recognize that the job is not done. The remaining challenges are many. The most daunting of which is climate change. We must move forward with climate and energy legislation that will put us on a path that reduces pollution, ends our unsustainable reliance on foreign energy, and creates new, clean energy jobs. In doing so, we can help ensure that our children and grandchildren will always have a clean environment, a robust economy, and a secure Nation.
You can read a copy of my statement for the record here.
On my way from Scranton to Washington this morning, I stopped in Folcroft, Delaware County to tour LithChem, a small business doing great work with new energy technology. They are on the cutting edge of research and development of new batteries for national defense, solar panels and recycling of hazardous materials.
In addition to giving me a refresher course on physics and chemistry, the LithChem team said that they're ready to create new jobs and expand their business. As a company of eight employees, LithChem has faced many of the struggles that all small businesses have been up against during these tough economic times, but they are looking to the future and are ready to hire.
As I talked with Novis Smith and other LithChem employees, it became clear that their company is a great model of how my Job Creation Tax Credit proposal can help small businesses. My proposal will give tax incentives to encourage new job creation, which will ultimately lead us out of this recession. LithChem's management told me that they are looking to expand to 35 employees and my proposal will help them accomplish their goal.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at LithChem and wish them and all of our small businesses in Pennsylvania the best of luck.
Located in Dauphin County, Steelton was once a booming steel community, but times have changed. The steel mills are long gone, and now green energy is taking root with the Steelton Solar Project, which has received $655,000 in federal economic recovery funds to build a 500 kilowatt-hour solar facility. The project will not only create clean energy, but also new jobs. I have and will continue to support clean energy job creation to ensure further economic growth and recovery in Pennsylvania.
While traveling around Pennsylvania this week, the cold winter weather and the rising cost of electricity and home heating has had me thinking of the many Pennsylvanians struggling to pay their utility bills. Since joining the Senate, I have taken advantage of every opportunity to increase home energy assistance. I strongly supported funding Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at $5.1 billion for Fiscal Year 2010, the same as Fiscal Year 2009 and the highest level ever funded for the program. As rising energy prices, a slowing economy and increasing food costs place a heavy burden on our must vulnerable citizens, the federal government has a responsibility to help people afford the most basic needs.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission last month reported that 17,000 households in the state were without heat. It greatly troubles me that in Fiscal Year 2009, the number of homeowners whose utility service was disconnected increased by 5 percent because people could not afford to pay. This increase is especially alarming in light of the fact that federal emergency-bill assistance doubled this year and in many parts of the country utility rates lowered. Over the past two years, our Nation has endured the most difficult economic situation in recent memory. In Pennsylvania, the unemployment rate has grown to 8.5 percent, which means that over half a million people are out of work. It is very important that as our economy recovers, people continue to have electricity, especially during the winter months.
Although as a U.S. Senator I am unable to take direct action on Pennsylvania’s decision to deregulate its electricity generation industry, I am watching the situation closely. Experts predict that deregulation will cause an increase in electricity bills when rate caps expire, which has already occurred in parts of the state and will be completed by 2011. I am very concerned about what such an increase would mean for the people and industries located in our state. For this reason, I have asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to look into competition and rates in wholesale electricity markets. I will continue to follow this critically important issue. For those interested in learning more about how to better shop for residential electricity, I recommend visiting the Pennsylvania Office of the Consumer Advocate’s website.