GOP offers new oil liability standard — one year's profit

McClatchy NewspapersMay 14, 2010 

WASHINGTON — A day after Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski shot down a Democratic-led effort to lift the liability cap on oil companies, Florida Sen. George LeMieux and three other Gulf Coast Republicans introduced legislation they say would "dramatically increase" the industry's liability.

The legislation -- which also has the backing of Sens. David Vitter, R-La., Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., would set a new cap equal to the last four quarters of the responsible party's profits -- or double the current limit, whichever is greater.

"BP is already responsible for the costs of the cleanup, but we must ensure taxpayers are not forced to pay for associated damages," LeMieux said. He said economic damage from the spill will "far exceed" the current $75 million cap, and that under the bill, BP's liability would jump to $17 billion dollars.

Murkowski Thursday scuttled Florida Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson's effort to lift the cap to $10 billion, saying it would prevent smaller, independent companies from drilling along the Outer Continental Shelf. "What this would do is give all of America's offshore resources to the biggest of the big oil companies," she said.

New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez said Thursday that the $10 billion, "seems to be a figure that could encompass the possibility of people getting relief right away.''

The Republican bill also calls for a "thorough report" to Congress from all agencies involved in the response to the spill by Sept. 1. The report, the senators say, "will evaluate what went wrong with the immediate response to the spill by private entities and the federal government."

The bill would also require that "the best technologies and equipment are staged to respond to potential spills within 24 hours" and establish greater reserve requirements for the amount of oil containment barriers.

Under the bill, enough flame retardant booms capable of withstanding six-foot waves to corral 100 square miles of ocean would have to be available for deployment anywhere in the country within 24 hours. It also requires the development of capping or dome technology capable of working at depths 2,000 feet below the current deepest well that can also be deployed in 24 hours.

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