It took the 1989 massive Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska to nudge Congress into passing the Oil Pollution Act in 1990, which made oil companies responsible for paying all spill cleanup costs. The law set a liability cap for oil companies at $75 million for economic damage claims caused by a spill.
Clearly, that was being too kind to oil producers, as the ongoing massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico makes painfully clear. As of Friday, a 78-ton dome was being lowered in an attempt to slow the leak. Fishing fleets remain grounded. Shrimpers' boats have been converted into makeshift cleanup crafts to reckon with the 5,000 barrels of crude that's widening the oil slick daily. Beach resorts are seeing bookings drop as tourists shy away from visions of oil-soaked beaches.
Now lawmakers from coastal states -- including Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Kendrick Meek -- are pushing to raise that cap to make sure BP and other oil companies in future spills are liable for damages incurred by such disasters.
Bills in the House and Senate would raise the liability cap to $10 billion and make it retroactive to cover this ongoing spill. Congress should approve the bills, and do it quickly.
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