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Senate Energy Committee to Consider Changes to Oil Spill Liability


WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, will consider potential increases to the strict liability limit under the Oil Pollution Act at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee next week.

Notice that the hearing room has changed. It will now be held Tuesday in Senate Russell 325 at 10 a.m.

Murkowski, the ranking member of the energy committee, requested the hearing in an effort to have a public discussion about the pros and cons of increasing the liability cap on offshore drilling. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the energy committee,  agreed to the hearing.

"I support raising the liability limits on oil companies drilling offshore above the $75 million level, but we need to have a full and frank public debate about where the appropriate cap should be set to avoid any unintended consequences," Murkowski said this week.

Murkowski supports raising the strict liability limit for oil spills and is working with the administration and with her colleagues on both sides of the aisle to establish what amount is appropriate to fully hold any responsible party liable.

She has objected to proposals to raise the cap retroactively to $10 billion without public debate, calling the amount arbitrary and an effort to grab headlines rather than set good public policy.

The number of mischaracterizations on what the liability limits are shows that the Senate needs to gain a better understanding of how these complex legal and statutory provisions interact, Murkowski said. 

Strict liability for all oil spill cleanup costs are already unlimited under current law, as are compensatory and punitive damages.

Murkowski is working on legislation that would establish an administrative process to expedite payment of damage claims by victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Other potential provisions include:
  • Allowing the federal Treasury to temporarily provide the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund additional funds if claims exceed the current $1.6 billion total, to be repaid by a fee on oil companies.
  • Increase the $1 billion per incident cap on claims from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
  • Double the $500 million cap on natural resources damages from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to $1 billion.
  • Establish a bipartisan commission to investigate cause of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and recommend on future worker safety and environmental laws to improve domestic energy security.
  • Expand research and development of U.S. Coast Guard spill response capability.
  • Require Senate confirmation of MMS directors.

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