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Begich Introduces Oil Spill Escrow Legislation

Bill would require BP and future companies to set aside funding for damages in the event of a spill

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today introduced legislation requiring BP and future oil companies to set aside adequate funding in an escrow account to address the damage and claims from a major catastrophic oil spill like the one in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Guaranteed Oil Spill Compensation Act of 2010, co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), would require BP or any other party responsible for an oil spill interested in future development of federal oil and gas leases to deposit into an escrow account held by the U.S. government enough money to compensate those affected by a spill.

“We need to make sure no American will ever again have to suffer what Alaskans did after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, waiting while Exxon fought the legitimate claims of thousands harmed by the spill for nearly two decades,” Begich said. “One of the most important lessons we learned was to set up a system as early as possible to guarantee those affected by oil spills are justly and quickly compensated.”

Begich acknowledged the recent decision by BP to set up a $20 billion escrow account over the next four years to compensate victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. But added putting it into law makes sure another administration won’t change the policy.

“I appreciate BP appears to have recognized its responsibility and agreed to this fund, but we need a legislative hammer to guarantee the same commitment in the future for catastrophic spills like the one we have now,” Begich said

Under Begich’s bill, in the event of a spill, the Secretary of Interior makes an assessment of outstanding liability under provisions of the federal legislation passed after the Exxon Valdez disaster, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90). The spiller must then deposit funds into a separate fund equal to the total liability minus the liability established for the incident by OPA 90. The Secretary would then administer the fund for claims and costs related to that spill. Unexpended funds would be returned to the spiller five years after the date of deposit or the date the Secretary determines all federal, state, and civil claims have been satisfied. The measure would have no affect on other liability.

“I believe this legislation achieves what many of us want: Americans damaged by this oil spill and future spills are fairly compensated in a timely way. That didn’t happen to Alaskans with the Exxon Valdez. We must ensure it does happen with our fellow citizens in the Gulf of Mexico,” Begich said. “It’s another tool for our toolkit as Congress works on liability reform designed to make those injured whole again, while at the same time allowing responsible companies to provide oil our country needs.”

The Guaranteed Oil Spill Compensation Act of 2010 is the first of a package of bills Begich intends to introduce designed to make oil companies financially responsible for the cost of oil spills; expand scientific research, especially in the Arctic; provide a steady source of federal funding for additional science and resources needed in the Far North to deal with oil and gas development; and provide greater citizen involvement in oil development

Begich and his staff are finalizing the other bills and they will be introduced in the coming days.

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