Menendez: Administration Made ‘Fundamentally Terrible Choice’ on Drilling

Posted May 11, 2010 at 1:24pm

In a sign of the potential political implications of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a half-dozen Democratic lawmakers announced plans Tuesday to propose a ban on all new offshore drilling, and the head of Senate Democrats’ campaign committee criticized President Barack Obama’s now-defunct plan to open up new areas to exploration.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said the administration made a “fundamentally terrible choice” when Obama announced March 31 that he would explore expanded drilling off certain portions of the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. The White House has put those plans on hold in the wake of the April 20 spill off the Louisiana coast, which BP is still struggling to contain.

“It just seems to me that the administration made the wrong choice,” the New Jersey lawmaker said. “It’s interesting to me that they didn’t choose the West Coast to drill on. They’ve chosen the East Coast to drill on.”

Meanwhile, Menendez’s home-state colleague Rep. Frank Pallone is leading a group of Democratic House Members who will join with environmental advocates at a Wednesday press conference to unveil a bill banning new drilling and ensuring that oil companies are held “accountable for oil spill cleanup, economic impact and safety improvements.”

In the wake of the deadly oil rig explosion that prompted the Gulf Coast spill, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and others have called for Congress to ban new drilling and legislation has been introduced in both chambers that would increase to $10 billion the liability cap on the Oil Trust Fund.

Menendez, who is sponsoring the legislation increasing the liability cap, said he would “strongly support” such legislation barring all new drilling but that it was unclear whether there was enough support for it in the Senate.

Pallone’s announcement came as Congress held its first hearing on the spill. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the topic Tuesday morning, and the first House-side hearing is slated for Wednesday before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.