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K Street Deals With Onslaught of Oil Spill Bills

While the API has not taken a position on the Senate legislation, it has opposed a similar but more comprehensive bill in the House sponsored by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Natural Resources Committee.

The bill, which will be reviewed today by Rahall’s committee, also calls for agency reorganization and would extend the 30-day deadline for review of exploration plans to 90 days and require monthly oil rig inspections. The measure, portions of which were drafted well before the Gulf oil spill, calls for toughened standards for onshore energy leasing programs and overhauling federal oil royalty collection programs.

But in direct response to the current environmental disaster, it would also establish a Gulf of Mexico restoration plan, which has been championed by environmental groups who have been heavily lobbying Congress since the spill.

Soon after the April 20 rig explosion, a number of environmental groups banded together to come up with legislative proposals. “We put together a list of principles that we shared with Senate and House staff,” said Athan Manuel, director of lands protection for the Sierra Club.

In the past two weeks, Manuel said, the green groups, which include the Ocean Conservancy, the National Resources Defense Council and the Alaska Wilderness League, have been e-mailing Congressional staff and holding more meetings on Capitol Hill. He said the relevant committees “took our concerns very seriously.”

The trial lawyers, represented by the American Association for Justice, have also been busy promoting changes to liability laws and have escorted families of victims to Congressional hearings.

In particular, the AAJ has been pushing a measure that would amend the Death on the High Seas Act, which was enacted in 1920 and limits how much money families of those who die off the U.S. shore can recover.

The Senate Commerce Committee today is expected to review legislation by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that would allow families to be paid for noneconomic damages resulting from death on the sea. The witnesses at that hearing include Natalie Roshto of Liberty, Miss., the widow of Shane Roshto, who died on the Deepwater Horizon. The House Judiciary Committee has already approved a similar bill.

The wave of legislation has made it hard for outside groups, even those with sizable lobbying shops, to keep up. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment today is considering a bill that would stiffen oversight of the blowout preventer, whose failure has been blamed as the major problem on the BP rig.

The legislation would direct federal officials to determine that the blowout preventer and other well-control equipment will prevent a blowout from occurring.

The API’s Landry said her group was still reviewing the legislation.

“That is in the weeds,” she said.

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