Senate Dems fail to secure quick passage of oil spill liability measure

Senate Dems fail to secure quick passage of oil spill liability measure

Senate Democrats seeking to punish BP for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill were turned back Thursday when they sought quick passage of legislation that significantly raises oil companies’ liability cap on economic damages from offshore disasters.

Sen. Robert MenendezRobert MenendezTaiwan deserves to participate in United Nations The way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump Corruption trial could roil NJ Senate race MORE (D-N.J.) – backed by Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Bill NelsonBill NelsonBipartisan group demands answers on United incident Is Congress encroaching on Americans' Internet privacy? Trump's Labor pick endorsed by Hispanic lawyers MORE (D-Fla.) – sought so-called unanimous consent for the bill’s passage Thursday afternoon. But Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiTrump’s Army pick faces tough confirmation fight Republican Sen. Collins considering run for Maine governor in 2018 Alaska senators push bill to allow Arctic drilling MORE (R-Alaska) objected, scuttling the effort.

The Democrats said the legislation - which would raise the cap from $75 million to $10 billion - would ensure that taxpayers don't have to pay the bill for industry spills. “This bill should serve as a rallying cry for holding big oil accountable for the damages of this disaster and any future ones,” Menendez said.

Murkowski said she agreed that lawmakers should consider raising the $75 million cap.

But the $10 billion figure, she said, would have the unintended effect of allowing only the biggest oil companies to develop offshore, because smaller and independent companies could not afford the bonding and insurance needed with a cap that high. Murkowski said the cap should be raised “in a way that doesn’t give the biggest oil companies a monopoly.”

The debate comes amid increasing pressure on BP and other companies involved in the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig and ongoing spill. So far, BP has been unable to contain it.

Democrats are eager to show, for political benefit, that they are acting swiftly to hold the industry accountable – Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidWarren builds her brand with 2020 down the road 'Tuesday Group' turncoats must use recess to regroup on ObamaCare Dem senator says his party will restore 60-vote Supreme Court filibuster MORE’s (D-Nev.) office circulated an announcement of a press conference that Nelson, Menendez and Lautenberg scheduled Thursday on the issue.

Capitol Hill anger at BP increased Wednesday when a House panel said its investigation into the spill had revealed several deficiencies with the deepwater well’s “blowout preventer.”

The device is supposed to be a failsafe mechanism that prevents the type of uncontrolled flow that is now damaging the Gulf. The spill drew new attention Wednesday when BP released a video of oil billowing into the ocean from a pipe, thousands of feet underwater.

BP, rig owner Transocean Ltd., oil services contractor Halliburton and Cameron International – which built the blowout preventer – are all taking heat this week from congressional inquiries into the accident.

The White House supports raising the liability cap - and applying it retroactively - but has not said how high it wants to go.

 Several GOP lawmakers have also called for raising the liability ceiling.

Sens. David VitterDavid VitterFormer senator who crafted chemicals law to lobby for chemicals industry Former GOP rep joins K Street lobbying firm Capitol Counsel Lobbying World MORE (R-La.) and Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsDem lawmaker to Sessions: 'You are a racist and a liar' Top Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms DNC chairman slams Sessions for deportation comments MORE (R-Ala.) announced a new bill Thursday that creates a new cap equivalent to the last four quarters of the responsible party’s profits or double the current limit, whichever is greater, they said. The senators indicated BP could be liable for $20 billion in damages under their bill.

“Making a company at fault pay their last four quarters of profits is a much more effective way to ensure that energy companies actually pay for their mistakes without chasing many of them out of business,” Vitter said in a statement. “And under our bill, the bigger companies would be liable for more than the $10 billion cap others propose.”

BP CEO Tony Hayward has already said that damages from the disaster would exceed the $75 million cap and pledged to honor all “legitimate” claims.