Bill ensures big tar sands oil can’t escape costs for spill clean-up


Washington (February 14, 2020) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) today reintroduced bicameral legislation that would hold tar sand pipelines such as the Keystone XL pipeline accountable to the American people and economy, joined by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05) in the House of Representatives. The legislation would close a special tax loophole for oil companies that import or produce tar sands oil. Unlike other forms of oil sent through pipelines, tar sands oil companies are not currently required to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which provides response funding in the case of a spill. The largest source of revenue for the fund comes from a nine cent per barrel excise tax on crude oil received at U.S. refineries or on petroleum products imported into the United States. 


“The dirtiest fuels should have the strictest requirements, not regulatory loopholes. Tar sand pipelines spills should be cleaned up with company dollars just like all other types of oil,” said Senator Markey. “Late last year, TC Energy had its fourth major tar sands oil spill, but American taxpayers had to foot the bill for the emergency response because the company was able to avoid paying into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. We need to close this loophole for tar sands and make sure every Big Oil company pays up for their clean-up costs.”


“Tar sands are crude oil - this is plain and simple,” said Rep. Blumenauer. “Yet instead of being treated like it, oil companies are able to take advantage of a massive loophole and avoid the taxes on these dirty fossil fuels. Amidst the growing climate emergency, closing this loophole is a small step we must take to hold Big Oil accountable and to protect our communities.”


“Tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet.  Proposals to expand its import would lead to over one hundred million metric tons of carbon pollution every year, the primary driver of climate change,” said Senator Whitehouse. “And despite the history of serious spills, it’s exempt from paying into the cleanup fund.  We need to stop subsidizing pollution like tar sand oil.  Otherwise, Rhode Islanders and Americans everywhere will be left with more severe rising sea levels, storms, drought, and forest fires and the bill for serious public health and safety consequences of spills.” 

“For years giant fossil fuel companies have rigged the system to make sure they don’t have to pay a penny in cleanup costs if they spill some of the dirtiest fuels into our environment,” said Senator Warren. “We need to revoke this massive get-out-of-jail-free card for Big Oil and keep on fighting for a clean energy economy with healthier and safer fuels.”


A copy of the legislation can be found HERE


“Closing this tax loophole is a no-brainer. In a time of rapidly mounting climate crisis, the last thing we can afford is to subsidize dirty tar sands oil to the tune of billions of dollars,” said Collin Rees, Senior Campaigner at Oil Change International. “Letting tar sands companies off the hook leaves communities footing the bill for the toxic tar sands spills we’ve seen time and again. We need to end this giveaway to polluters, and to end all other subsidies that are wrecking the planet and lining the pockets of Big Oil.”


“Tar sands oil is the dirtiest fuel source on the planet, and the most difficult to clean up when it spills, polluting our communities, farmland, or waterways,” said Catherine Collentine, Associate Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign. “It is long past time for tar sands companies to pay to clean up their toxic messes. We applaud Senator Markey for his leadership in closing this dangerous loophole.”


In November 2019, Senator Markey sent a letter demanding answers from TC Energy, owner of the Keystone Pipeline, about a 383,000-gallon crude oil spill in North Dakota. The Keystone Pipeline pumps tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, and this was its fourth major spill since the pipeline began operation in 2010. In his letter, Senator Markey expressed concerns that TC Energy appears to be acting negligently in allowing these repeated spills to occur, and in failing to prevent further spills.