Photo via NY Daily News
The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was passed after the Exxon-Valdez to hold oil companies responsible for their spills. One of the main provisions of the bill was that it held oil companies liable for funding the cleanup of their messes -- but only up to $75 million dollars worth. It's questionable enough whether that sum was adequate to pay for the cleanup in Prince William Sound (there are still tons of oil lingering on the beaches there, remember). But that was a smaller (even though it was the biggest in US history at the time) spill, and less complex -- the response to BP Gulf spill is bigger, more involved, and more complicated. So some legislators want to raise that cap to hold BP properly accountable -- and the majority of Americans agree.But a number of oil-friendly politicians, predictably, do not. Senator Lisa Murkowski, for one, has somewhat amazingly blocked a provision to raise the liability cap. She says that raising the liability cap from $75 million would "hurt smaller oil companies" (she also accepts a significant amount of funding from oil companies). Which is ridiculous on a number of fronts -- I mean, even if a "smaller" oil company was somehow responsible for spilling 20+ million gallons of oil into the ocean, shouldn't they be liable for the damage that causes?
Good thing that Americans aren't buying Murkowski's twisted logic, either. The most recent Angus-Reid Public Opinion poll found that a full 65% of them support raising the cap, while only 18% oppose doing so (via to Enviroknow).
Senators Ben Nelson of Florida and Sens. Robert Menendez and Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey introduced the legislation last month, which would raise the cap from $75 million to $10 billion. The LA Times reported at the time:
"BP says it'll pay for this mess. Baloney. They're not going to want to pay any more than what the law says they have to, which is why we can't let them off the hook," Nelson said.I agree with Nelson -- BP has can claim it will pay in full all damages owed all it wants right now, while the spill is still under intense scrutiny. But when it comes down to actually coughing up the dough, unless there's a legal obligation to do so, it's liable to change its tune. Given the lack of transparency the company has displayed in its response thus far, I'd have to say that's a distinct possibility. That liability cap absolutely must be raised, for obvious reasons. And Americans support it.
Cleanup of the spill is expected to run into the billions of dollars and it is too soon to estimate what will be the tab on additional losses from lost income from harmed fisheries and any environmental damage.
Let's not let a few senators beholden to oil industry interests stop BP from paying its due to the people of the Gulf Coast and the environment it has spoiled.
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