Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Alaska’s senators file bills seeking help for Gulf Coast residents

FAIRBANKS - Alaska's senators spent Tuesday outlining legislation to help those affected by the ongoing crisis in the Gulf and to hold BP responsible for the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's Oil Spill Compensation Act of 2010 would let the president set liability for offshore oil and gas development based on a company's safety record and the type of well being developed.

The bill would also establish an administrator named by the president and approved by the Senate who would approve compensation claims and try to avoid a lengthy court battle. Attorney fees would be limited to five percent of compensation.

"There is real concern out there about the prompt payment of claims," Murkowski, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. "People are looking for a level of assurance that they will be made whole."

"An independent administrator assures Gulf residents they're not up against Big Oil all alone," Murkowski said.

At a news conference in Washington, D.C., Sen. Mark Begich further discussed his plan to introduce legislation requiring BP and other oil companies to set up an escrow account that would pay for damages related to oil spills.

Begich was among the first senators to call for the creation of an escrow account last week, Begich spokeswoman Julie Hasquet said. The plan was endorsed over the weekend by President Obama and mentioned Tuesday night in his Oval Office address.

Begich said he hopes an escrow account would avoid a repeat of the two decades of legal battles that followed the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

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

Following the president's address, Begich said that while he agreed with much of what Obama said, he took issue with the president's statement that America is running out of places to explore for oil and gas when there are "three prime spots" in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offshore in the Arctic.

"Developing these areas should be part of a comprehensive national energy policy, as Alaska continues its role as the nation's energy storehouse," Begich said. "Congress needs to act on comprehensive energy legislation this year."

Murkowski energy spokesman Robert Dillon said that Murkowski would not oppose an escrow account but that she would "want to make sure it wouldn't impede BP's ability to pay for clean-up and compensation now."

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Source: By Chris Freiberg. Originally published June 16, 2010