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Murkowski Blocks Bill to Raise Oil Companies' Liability for Spills

May 13, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Under current law, companies responsible for oil spills are required to pay all costs associated with the clean up effort, but only the first $75 million in economic damages caused by the spill. Obviously, the economic impact of the BP Gulf spill is going to be a lot higher than that cap. Nobody knows exactly how much it will come out to, but it’s going to be at least several billion.

Last week, 14 Democrats introduced a bill called the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act of 2010 that would raise the $75 million cap to $10 billion in order to ensure that BP is paying for the impact the spill is and will continue to have on the Gulf coast economy, not the business owners and taxpayers.

The bill’s sponsors today put forth a unanimous consent request to pass the bill. But one senator, Lisa Murkowski [R, AK] objected, which means that the Senate will have to wait until after the financial reform debate is over to hold a series of procedural votes on overcoming the objection, a full debate, and a final vote on passage. Murkowski’s objection does not mean the bill is necessarily dead, but it delays its passage until the Senate can find time in its schedule to work on it. If she has backing from other Republicans, her objections could eat up a lot of precise Senate floor time.

“Taking the liability cap from $75 million dollars to $10 billion dollars… 133 times the current strict liability limit, isn’t where we need to be right now,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor. She argued that the $10 billion cap is too high because it would prevent smaller oil companies from entering the offshore drilling market.

Here’s a chart from OpenSecrets showing Murkowski’s career campaign donations by industry. As you can see, “energy and natural resources,” which includes oil, has given the most by far:

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