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.
On Monday, May 24, I had the distinct honor of awarding a Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device to Mr. Frank T. Calabrese, a Vietnam veteran. Mr. Calabrese was awarded the Bronze Star for his valorous action in October, 1970 while serving as a Specialist Fourth Class with Company A, 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry. As a Medic in support of combat operations in Vietnam, Mr. Calabrese distinguished himself above and beyond the call of duty exposing himself to intense enemy fire to treat three severely wounded Service Members. As a result of his actions, all three Service Members were safely evacuated from the battlefield, ensuring their survival.
It was a pleasure and an honor to pin the Bronze Star on Mr. Calabrese with his family and other members of the Lehigh Valley Veterans community in attendance. It is also a reminder to recognize and thank those men and women who have served and continue to serve our country as we observe Memorial Day in the coming week, and pay special tribute to those Americans who have given their lives in military service.
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to meet with Rachael Ray, host of 30 Minute Meals on the Food Network, to discuss child obesity and poor nutrition, two major contributors to health and developmental problems. Our conversation focused on a number of interrelated issues, including nutrition education, access to healthy and affordable food and school breakfast and lunch meals.
The United States has the highest prevalence of obesity among developed nations. Obesity increases the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and arthritis, resulting in estimated yearly costs of over $117 billion.
I appreciate Rachael Ray’s work through her organization Yum-o and the attention she is paying to the food-related issues we are facing. There are countless people throughout Pennsylvania who work on these issues and I appreciate everything that is being done to reverse the current trends.
I believe that every person is able to make a difference and help to change our current food culture. One way that I am working to address these concerns is to ensure children eat healthy foods. Currently, I am working on addressing these issues as the Senate considers the Child Nutrition Act, the renewing of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and other legislation.
Ending hunger remains one of my top priorities as it cuts across all of the major challenges we are facing, including preventive health care, quality of life for families and the ability of children to take full advantage of educational opportunities.
On Monday, I held a field hearing on financial regulation and reform entitled “Bringing Accountability and Transparency to Wall Street.” As the Senate continues to debate the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 (S. 3217), I wanted to make sure I heard from people and small businesses that have been directly impacted by the financial crisis as well as experts in the field of economics and finance.
The hearing was held at the Creese Student Center on the campus of Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the hearing I was able to gather valuable information from six witnesses: Steven Kaplan, who is the Secretary of Banking for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Skip Voluntad, who is the owner of Asian Pacific Management and Consulting Company and also serves on the Executive Council of the Association of the Advancement of Retired Persons (AARP); Dr. Michael Gombola and Dr. Jie Cai, Drexel Lebow College of Business Finance Department Head and Professor, respectively; Tracy Levesque, the co-owner of YIKES, Inc. a Web design, development and ecommerce small business; Jim Sysko, a Professor of Business Administration and Business Ethicist Scholar at the McGowan School of Business, King’s College.
Each of the six witnesses was able to provide a unique perspective on a variety of topics that included how the financial crisis has affected credit availability for small businesses, the impact of deregulation in Pennsylvania and the relationship between executive pay and company performance, among others. Listening to these testimonies reinforced what I have seen travelling across Pennsylvania and in reviewing job loss and foreclosure numbers, and that is the need to pass strong reform for our financial markets and mega banks.
It is clear that American families and small business were pushed to the side by Wall Street mega banks as they consolidated their power simply to gain wealth for themselves and their stockholders. For this reason, I look forward to making sure that reform to improve accountability, resiliency and transparency in the financial system is passed in the Senate.
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.