Bill to focus on safety regulations, emergency well shutoff techniques, 'updated criminal and civil penalties'

The top US senator pressed key lawmakers Thursday to craft legislation by July 4 to prevent the kind of "economic, social and environmental devastation" wrought by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told major committee chairs that he aimed to include their proposals in a comprehensive energy and climate change bill he hoped to bring to a full Senate vote in the next three months.

"I think it is extremely important that you each examine what could be included in a comprehensive energy bill that would address the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico," Reid wrote in a letter.

"The economic, social and environmental devastation occurring there now due to the oil pollution is unprecedented," he said, pushing for steps to address the crisis and "reduce the risks of such a catastrophe happening again."

Reid's letter went to the chairs of the finance, energy, environment, banking, judiciary, homeland security, agriculture, and commerce committees, which have jurisdiction over key parts of the overall climate bill.

"I hope to bring comprehensive clean energy legislation before the full Senate later this summer," said the majority leader.

Reid suggested a need for new measures to ensure oil companies are accountable for the full damages caused by spills; compensate oil pollution-related losses; and updated criminal and civil penalties.

"In addition, we must make sure that effective federal safety standards are in place and effectively enforced and that we are better equipped to avert, detect and adequately respond to disastrous failures in the future," he said.

Reid said the United States "cannot now afford to halt" domestic oil production, "but we can demand that companies operating in deepwater invest in the development and deployment of emergency response technologies and safety procedures that are sufficient to handle worst case scenarios."

And he called for a more aggressive effort to develop alternative fuels and new-energy vehicles to "move much more quickly to kick the oil habit as soon as possible" and urged proposals be unveiled "before the Fourth of July recess."

"We must act soon to ensure there are no statutory impediments to quick action in the Gulf of Mexico and to moving forward rapidly on a safer, cleaner and more secure energy policy," he said.