Murkowski Blocks Bill to Hike Industry Liability for Oil Spills

Created: May 13, 2010 16:01 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

Today on Capitol Hill, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) took to the chamber floor and asked for unanimous consent to pass his much-discussed bill to raise the liability ceiling — from $75 million to $10 billion – on economic damages resulting from an oil spill. The proposal is a response to questions about just how much of the spill’s economic damage BP is poised to pay in the wake of last month’s Deepwater Horizon blast in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Menedez bill didn’t get very far. Instead, Sen. Lisa Murkowki (R-Alaska), on behalf of the oil industry, blocked the motion. Her reasoning is worth a mention.

First, Murkowski invoked Alaska’s dismal experience following the Exxon Valdez disaster more than 20 years ago. “We lived with oil on our beaches,” she said. “We know the economic impact — we know the social impact — that a spill can cause.”

Then she argued that the responsible party should indeed pay for such accidents. The goal of Congress, she said, should be to “ensure that those that are responsible pay for the economic loss for the damages that are incurred. We’re with you on this.”

Then she immediately walked back that statement, arguing that a liability hike from $75 million to $10 billion ”isn’t where we need to be right now.” Instead, she offered, “maybe we need to understand a little bit better as to how much we might need to look at raising the limit.”

To no one’s surprise, she didn’t mention the $426,000 she’s accepted from the oil industry in her eight-year tenure on the Hill.