A high-profile spill of 58,000 gallons of fuel oil from a tanker that struck the San Francisco Bay Bridge in November – closing fisheries, ending crab season, and fouling beaches – was an added catalyst to the legislation, Mr. Charter and others say. Several members of Congress whose districts were hit by the spill have become sponsors or supporters of the bill in recent months.
"They are more concerned because they've realized we really haven't gotten that much better in cleaning [oil spills] up," Charter says.
Before the House approved the measure, Republicans on the Natural Resources Committee had warned it would cut off access to potential future supplies of oil and gas, even as oil prices topped $100 per barrel.
"The industry is concerned about the overall issue of supply versus demand: Every drop of oil we can't produce domestically from US reserves is replaced by a drop of foreign imports," says Joe Sparano, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, a trade group. "But … we have respect for what appears to be a very strong and clear signal from the public."