Big Oil found their target.
Just now, as expected, Robert Menendez sought unanimous consent for the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act of 2010, which would raise the liability cap on oil spills from $75 million up to $10 billion. And it would have surely passed. Big Oil needed one Senator to raise an objection and fend off those who want fair compensation for people unwittingly affected by the underwater gusher in the Gulf and other disasters in the future. And they found her in Lisa Murkowski: amazingly, the Senator from Alaska, the site of the last major oil spill in America, the Exxon Valdez disaster.
“I don’t believe that 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, objecting to immediate consideration of the bill. She cited the Administration’s unwillingness to put a specific number on the liability cap as a reason not to move to consideration now (thanks for providing the talking point, President Obama!). “I do think we need to look at the liability cap, but we need to be careful of unintended consequences of just picking a number,” she concluded. And she actually tried to turn this into a fight for the little guy, saying that smaller oil producers wouldn’t be able to get insurance with that kind of liability cap, and that it should be structured in a way that “doesn’t give big oil a monopoly over the entire OCS (Outer Continental Shelf).”
Menendez responded by saying that “When BP makes $5.6 billion in three months, $10 billion is a drop in the bucket.” He rebutted Murkowski’s claim that small claimants could go through state courts to get recompense in a way that is not capped by reminding the Senator from Alaska of what happened in the Exxon Valdez case. “It took 20 years. And some of them fell off the way because they couldn’t hang in there. And they lost everything.”
But at least Big Oil got off easy today, thanks to Lisa Murkowski.
UPDATE: Majority Leader Reid was quick with a response:
“Nevadans are alarmed by the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and they want to ensure that the environmental impact is minimized and that we never allow this to happen again. But they also want to make sure that the negligent oil companies who cause disasters like this pay to clean it up, not taxpayers. That’s why Democrats, led by Senators Menendez, Lautenberg and Nelson, are trying to pass common-sense legislation to ensure that BP pays for the full cost of cleanup and that taxpayers in Nevada and across America are protected.
“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.
“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.”