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Begich Urges Tougher Spill Laws to National Oil Spill Commission

Urges vigilance while supporting need to reignite U.S. energy industry

As Americans continue to look at the causes of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and look for ways to make sure it doesn't happen again, lessons from Alaska's Exxon Valdez Oil Spill can be utilized and implemented. That was part of the message from U.S. Sen. Mark Begich who testified today before the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

"As we assess the lessons learned from both these accidents, one truth rises above all others: We must be committed to paying the price of vigilance, because the price of complacency is too high," Begich testified.

Begich testified today as part of a two-day hearing of the oil spill commission meeting in Washington, D.C. Other witnesses include EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Shell Alaska Vice President for Exploration & Production Pete Slaiby, and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Begich said in the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, Alaskans led the way for tougher national laws and oil transportation procedures, including double-hulled tankers, tractor tug escorts and better citizen oversight of the oil industry.

"In the aftermath of Deepwater Horizon, I urge this commission to propose additional actions which federal and local governments should take to guard against another such fatal tragedy," Begich added.

Begich said the top of the list should be providing the tools to guarantee those affected by oil spills are justly and promptly compensated. He reminded the commission that Exxon fought the legitimate claims of Alaskans for nearly two decades until the U.S. Supreme Court shamefully reduced the company's punitive liability to just 10 percent of the original $5 billion judgment.

Begich has introduced legislation to do that by increasing the financial liability for oil companies and requiring any company responsible for an oil spill to establish an independent escrow account to compensate those affected by a spill. He is also working on compromise legislation protecting taxpayers from oil spill damage costs while keeping responsible American companies in the Outer Continental Shelf by allowing those operators to pool their liability and collectively pay for damages from oil spills.

"My other main message to you is to help put America's oil and gas industry back on track," Begich said. "My own state of Alaska, long America's energy storehouse, is ready and willing to help. We have billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas on land and off-shore poised for development."

Begich said the Obama administration's moratorium on deepwater development in the Gulf of Mexico has had collateral damage in Alaska, shutting down planned exploration in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas this season. He has asked both President Obama and Interior Sec. Ken Salazar to provide a clear timeline and process within the next 60 days so that energy development in Alaska has a clear path forward.

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