GOP senators have blocked consideration of legislation that would force BP and other oil companies to pay the full amount for cleanup and other damage resulting from a spill, such as that currently underway in the Gulf of Mexico.
Republicans objected Thursday to the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act, a Democratic bill that would raise the liability caps for oil companies from $75 million to $10 billion.
New Jersey Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez, as well as Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, introduced the legislation, as well as the companion bill, the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Trust Fund Act (S.3306) would remove the $1 billion “per incident” limit on total claims against the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
The lawmakers say they introduced their legislation to prevent taxpayers from having to bear the costs of the unfolding disaster in which tens of thousands of barrels of oil are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast due to an explosion last month of an offshore platform leased by energy giant BP. Estimates put the BP spill to probably become larger than the giant 1989 ExxonValdez spill off Alaska. The specific cause of the explosion is not yet known.
“Inexplicably, Republicans are protecting negligent oil companies like BP and blocking our efforts to prevent a BP bailout. Through their obstruction, Republicans are leaving taxpayers on the hook to pay for BP’s negligence,” says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “Republicans should drop their objections, and support our efforts to hold big oil companies accountable and prevent a BP bailout. I am committed to protecting taxpayers in Nevada and across America from paying for corporate negligence.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, went to the floor to object to the Democrats’ cleanup legislation.
BP has given Murkowski $19,300 to support her campaigns, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. The company contributed $24,000 to her father, the former Alaska senator and governor, Frank Murkowski, according to the same data.
Meanwhile, Menendez, Nelson and Lautenberg held a press conference following the filibuster of their bill.
“This vote was as straightforward and common sense as it gets — either you want to fully protect the small businesses and communities devastated by a man-made disaster, or you want to protect multi-billion dollar oil companies from being held fully accountable,” Menendez says. “Does anyone who has been watching the images coming in from the Gulf believe that we should be protecting multi-billion dollar oil companies instead of the small businesses, fisheries and coastal residents who are losing their livelihoods? Apparently, there are some in the Senate who prefer to protect the oil companies.”
Nelson sought to put the numbers behind the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act into context, particularly as it relates to profit BP generates as the fourth-largest company on the planet.
“I’m really disappointed some of my colleagues decided to block legislation to hold BP accountable for this disaster,” he says. “We still don’t know how bad it will be. But it’s certainly going to exceed the current $75-million cap on liability for drilling accidents. I’m not even sure $10 billion would be enough. But let’s remember BP just reported a profit of $5.5 billion in just the last three months.”
Lautenberg, meanwhile, cast his bill simply as one of fairness and fair-play.
“What we just saw on the Senate floor has to startle the American people: Republicans stood against ordinary Americans and with Big Oil,” he says. “Even children understand a basic rule: if you break it, you pay for it. But clearly there are some in the Senate who don’t think the rules of fairness should apply to Big Oil. We have to hold the oil companies like BP accountable when they make a catastrophic mistake.”
Further, Lautenberg has noted that President Obama supports his legislation, even as the president has continued to support resumption of offshore drilling after an investigation of the BP spill.
“President Obama has embraced our commonsense reforms to ensure oil companies pay the full cost when a spill devastates a coastal economy,” Lautenberg says. “It’s clear to me that polluters, and not taxpayers, should be on the hook for cleaning up these messes. Making polluters pay is a principle I’ve stood by throughout my career, and oil spills should not be an exception.”
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.