Sen. Murkowski Welcomes Administration’s Spill Response Efforts

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, today welcomed President Obama’s efforts to strengthen the federal response to the tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Murkowski specifically singled out the move to beef-up the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, increase available funding for the U.S. Coast Guard and enhance research and study of the use of chemical dispersants as smart, targeted responses to the situation in the Gulf.

“I’m pleased to see swift action to increase the federal response to the oil spill threatening the Gulf coast,” Murkowski said. “While I’m still reviewing the full proposal, many of the measures strike me as sensible and timely.”

The administration’s call to increase the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund per barrel fee from 8 cents to 9 cents matches S. 3309, Senator Murkowski and Begich’s bill, which they introduced last week. S. 3309 would also increase the fund to $10 billion. The 12.5 percent increase in the per-barrel fee would raise up to $612 million annually.

The Murkowski-Begich bill would also remove the “sunset provisions” in the current law to ensure the fund is always available to those impacted by catastrophic oil spills. Currently, the liability fund is set to expire in 2017, and contains approximately $1.6 billion. The liability trust fund was established by Congress in 1986, but not activated until after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. In 2005, Murkowski proposed raising the per-barrel fee from 5 cents to 8 cents.

“The liability fund provides a critical, industry-funded source of compensation that’s immediately available to address spill-related impacts,” Murkowski said. “We must make sure the fund has enough money to respond in times of crisis.”

Murkowski also called sensible and responsible the administration’s plan to raise the statutory expenditure limitation for the liability fund from $1 billion to $1.5 billion and the cap on natural resource damage assessments and claims from $500 million to $750 million.

“We may need to further increase the liability caps under the fund, but it’s important to make sure we don’t increase them to the point where we simply make financing impossible for the majority of offshore operators,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski welcomed the proposal to grant the U.S. Coast Guard the ability to draw advances of up to $100 million each from the liability fund. Murkowski, who has long been a champion of providing adequate funding to the Coast Guard, said granting the service emergency access to the liability fund will ensure that every step is taken protect American lives and the environment during the spill response.

Murkowski also pointed to the proposal to increase environmental review of the use of chemical dispersants employed in response to offshore oil spills. Murkowski, at a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the Deepwater Horizon accident, questioned why the Environmental Protection Agency hadn’t studied the use of dispersants in deep water prior to the April 20 spill.

Murkowski, however, did voice concerns over a proposal to expand the review period for exploration plans to an unlimited amount of time, which, she said, could violate the terms of existing leases. 

Considering BP’s repeated pledge to pay all legitimate claims and costs related to the spill, Murkowski inquired today with the White House over whether the president’s proposal would represent a burden to taxpayers. The White House responded that it plans to seek full reimbursement to the liability fund from the responsible parties.

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