A bill to increase the liability cap for oil spills from $75 million to $10 billion was defeated Thursday by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
Murkowski, a drilling supporter, has received almost $300,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. While Murkowski said that she supports raising the cap, she argued that the $10 billion figure would prohibit all but the biggest of oil companies from drilling oil offshore:
It would be impossible or perhaps close to impossible for any energy company that is smaller than the supermajors, smaller than the national oil companies, to operate in the O.C.S.
$10 billion in strict liability would preclude their ability to obtain financing, to obtain the bonds, or insurance for any exploration. And look at who is producing in the offshore? It's the independents.Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, said Murkowski's argument didn't hold up. "The risk is what has to be calulated here. If you drill, you need to be able to pay for the damages," Menendez said.
Menendez derided Murkowski's characterization of "independent" oil and gas companies. "This isn't mom and pop in the grocery store around the corner.''
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she was disappointed that Senate Republicans "once again put Big Oil profits" over taxpayer interests. "This is a simple issue of fairness: If an oil company causes a spill, they should have to pay to clean it up," Murray said.
Menendez along with Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) said they would try again to move the bill forward.