This was a vote on a motion to bring up legislation that would have required the Secretary of the Interior to approve or deny permits for oil and gas drilling within 30 days of receiving an application. If the secretary failed to act on a permit within 60 days of receiving an application, the permit would be automatically approved.
Following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010—in which 11 people died following an explosion on an offshore oil drilling rig known as the “Deepwater Horizon,” and spilled oil wreaked environmental havoc on the Gulf Coast—the Obama administration imposed an offshore drilling moratorium. The administration lifted that moratorium, however, in May 2010. Despite lifting the moratorium, however, Republicans argued that the administration had been too slow in approving leases for drilling, and contributed to high gasoline prices. The Obama administration (and many congressional Democrats) countered that it was seeking to improve drilling safety in order to prevent another oil spill disaster.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) urged support for this bill: “From the oil wealth of the gulf coast, to the coal reserves of Appalachia, from the hydroelectric power that characterizes much of the American West, to the oilfields of Alaska, America is blessed with an almost boundless supply of energy wealth. From the time of this nation's founding, Americans have sought to explore and develop this bounty….Last night, I held a telephone townhall meeting with many of my constituents, and the issues of gasoline prices and energy independence were raised repeatedly…. As I told Mississippians again last night during this townhall meeting that I favor an all-of-the-above approach to addressing America's energy needs. I have supported, and continue to support, innovation in the area of biofuels, geothermal power, wind, and solar energy. At the same time, however, we need to address current needs with currently available domestic energy resources, such as oil and natural gas….This legislation is responsive to the needs of the American people, not at some uncertain date in the future but now, making use of the resources and technology available today.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) opposed the bill: “Haven't we learned anything from the tragic death of 11 men aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig a little over a year ago? Haven't we learned anything about the families who lost livelihoods and the gulf economy that will take decades to finally rebuild? Just over a year ago, I came to the floor to speak about this human and environmental catastrophe, a spill that many in this chamber said was inconceivable--well, inconceivable despite the fact that a remarkably similar spill had happened a year before off of Australia's coast. Two hundred thirty miles of coastline in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida was spoiled by toxic oil, and countless families who made their living on the coast had their lives turned upside down…. Despite that sobering reality, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have introduced a bill that would open new areas to coastal drilling and put millions more families at risk of losing everything….This reckless bill would allow drilling in sensitive coastal areas even though current safety and oversight laws have been deemed to be inadequate to prevent a repeat of the gulf disaster.”
The Senate rejected the motion to bring up this bill by a vote of 42-57. Voting “yea” were 42 Republicans. All 52 Democrats present and 5 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate rejected a motion to bring up legislation that would have required the Secretary of the Interior to approve or deny permits for oil and gas drilling within 30 days of receiving an application.