Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is turning to legislative tactics developed by former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich in an effort to halt changes proposed by the Trump administration that would loosen regulations on offshore oil drilling.
Nelson said he plans to invoke a procedural rule known as the Congressional Review Act to stop a ruling by the Interior Department that would end a current requirement for a third party to certify that an offshore oil rig's blowout preventer is working properly. The Congressional Review Act was initiated by Gingrich in the 1990s as a check on President Bill Clinton, but it went mostly unused until last year when Republicans in Congress used the rule to overturn a number of Obama-era regulations.
"Almost five million barrels of oil spilled as a result of a defective device called a blowout preventer," Nelson said on the Senate floor Wednesday. "The BP spill devastated my state's economy and eleven people lost their lives. That's why I plan to subject this misguided rule to the Congressional Review Act."
Since Democrats don't control Congress, it's unlikely that Nelson's use of the Congressional Review Act will succeed. Barack Obama simply vetoed rules that were overturned by Republicans via the Congressional Review Act when he was president, so Donald Trump could do the same if Nelson's effort is successful in Congress.
The Interior Department is currently accepting public comments on its change to the Obama-era drilling regulations until January 29.
"I hope the public understands that and starts registering some complaints, and I hope that during that time every Floridian remembers what happened to us when the beaches of Pensacola Beach were blackened with tar and oil, and we lost a whole season of our guests, our tourists who come to this extraordinary state," Nelson said.
In 2006, Nelson and then-Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., passed a moratorium on drilling off Florida’s Gulf coast through the year 2022. Nelson filed legislation last year to extend that ban an additional five years, to 2027.