Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Sen. Lisa Murkowski wants to raise liability limit for oil spills

FAIRBANKS - Sen. Lisa Murkowski wants to raise the liability limit for oil spills but has objected to retroactively raising that limit to $10 billion in light of the growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Murkowski, a Republican, has requested a meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Capitol. Alaska's senior senator is the ranking member of the committee.

"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 in a statement.

How much an oil company has to pay for such a spill is a complicated matter. Under the Oil Pollution Act, oil companies are only liable for up to $75 million in offshore drilling damages, though congressional Democrats have called for that amount to be raised retroactively to $10 billion.

However, there is no limit for how much an oil company has to pay for cleanup and removal of a spill, nor is there a limit on how much they have to pay victims affected by the spill under state laws.

Murkowski and other Republicans' opposition to raising the liability limit retroactively has drawn the ire of Democrats and President Obama.

"I am disappointed that an effort to ensure that oil companies pay fully for disasters they cause has stalled in the United States Senate on a partisan basis," Obama said last week.

"This maneuver threatens to leave taxpayers, rather than the oil companies, on the hook for future disasters like the BP oil spill. I urge the Senate Republicans to stop playing special interest politics and join in a bipartisan effort to protect taxpayers and demand accountability from the oil companies," he said.

Murkowski said she is working on legislation that would expedite payments for damage claims from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the cause of the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Murkowski wants increase the $1 billion per incident cap on claims from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund and double the current $500 million cap on natural resource damages from the fund.

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Source: By Chris Freiberg. Originally published May 23, 2010