Commentary: Getting tough with big oil

"Maybe this disastrous spill will finally convince enough members of Congress to clamp down on Big Oil," Florida's Sen. Bill Nelson told a Senate panel May 11 as the BP well gushed oil into the Gulf of Mexico for the third straight week.

Wishful thinking, it turns out. On Friday, Senate Republicans, led by Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, shot down Sen. Nelson's bill to raise oil companies' liability in spills to $10 billion from $75 million.

Yet if ever the timing was right for improving regulation of oil and gas production it is now. The well has leaked 210,000 gallons of crude a day since an oil rig exploded April 20. On Sunday BP managed to insert a pipe into the main leak, reducing the flow. The slick could move south into the Florida Keys and up the Atlantic coast -- a huge threat to tourism and the fishing industry. BP's $25 million offer for Florida tourism advertising is chump change if the spill reaches our shores.

Florida's congressional delegation, which fights a lonely battle on the perils of offshore drilling, should use the Gulf disaster to persuade fellow lawmakers to make this industry safer and better at preventing spills.

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