Anchorage Daily News: Murkowski, Begich on oil spill compensation funds

Alaska's two senators might be on the same page when it comes to promoting offshore drilling in Alaska, but the two offered up different plans on Tuesday for how BP should pay claims in the wake of the April 20 explosion that killed 11 and continues to foul the Gulf of Mexico.

Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, came out in support Tuesday of the proposal being endorsed by President Barack Obama: forcing BP to establish an escrow fund totaling billions to pay businesses and individuals for their losses stemming from the spill if the company doesn't do so voluntarily.

Begich and other Democratic senators proposed a $20 billion fund. Begich went a step beyond their proposal, though, saying the arrangement shouldn't just be for this oil spill and should be passed as a law. People need some sort of assurance that if this happens again, they'll have be compensated, too, Begich said. Begich also backed fellow Democrats who are calling for BP to pay money into the escrow fund before they pay a shareholder dividend.

"My bottom line is this: the Americans damaged by this oil spill must be fairly compensated in a timely way," Begich said. "That didn't happen to Alaskans with the Exxon Valdez. It must happen with our fellow citizens in the Gulf of Mexico."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced her own legislation Tuesday, which has as its centerpiece rules that allow the administration to set liability on offshore oil and gas projects on a case-by-case basis. The liability limit would depend on the company's safety record and the depth and pressure of the reserve being developed, among other factors. Responsibility for claims in excess of an individual cap would be shared by all offshore operators in U.S. waters.

She also wants to establish an administrative process - with an administrator named by the president and confirmed by the Senate - to approve compensation claims quickly, without litigation.

"Nobody, nobody should have to go through with the people of Alaska went through when it comes to resolution of their claims," Murkowski said

She said she had just come back from Cordova -- one of the hardest hit communities during the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill -- and wanted to include the advice of some of the people there.

Her legislation also includes a provision that allows states to receive a share of royalties for offshore wells in federal waters off their coastlines.

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Source: By Erika Bolstad. Originally published June 15, 2010