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Loopholes and Exemptions; How the Oil and Gas Industry Is Allowed to Police Itself

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The blowout on Deepwater Horizon caused the worst environmental disaster in American history. But the hole in the well isn't the only one Washington needs to plug.

A series of legal and regulatory loopholes has effectively allowed the oil and gas industry to police itself. Many of these loopholes remain wide open:

  • The Minerals Management Service granted BP a "categorical exclusion" under the National Environmental Policy Act, exempting the project from an environmental review.
  • A "Halliburton Exemption" from the Safe Drinking Water Act has enabled drillers to engage in hydraulic fracturing without identifying the chemicals they use or the damage they cause.
  • An exemption from the Clean Air Act has allowed 450 wells in Garfield County, Colorado to release 30 tons of carcinogenic benzene - 20 times more than a non-exempt industrial plant in Denver.

Congress should close these loopholes, as well as the exemptions drillers have carved out of the Clean Water Act; the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act; the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act; and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Plenty of candidates promise to stand up to special interests. In a fundraising appeal he sent out last week, for example, my opponent Senator Bennet criticized the "lax regulations and long-standing corporate loopholes" that lead to "catastrophic financial and environmental disasters."

Mr. Bennet's stance, however, contained a loophole of its own. Twenty-four hours earlier, he voted to preserve more than $35 billion in tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, instead of using that money to reduce the deficit and advance energy efficiency and conservation.

As Colorado's next U.S. Senator, I will fight to protect our health and safety. I will promote economic development and support energy exploration practices that do not endanger our environment. And I will never have to worry about displeasing my corporate contributors - I don't have any.