U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced legislation today to ensure BP fully meets its commitment to pay all claims from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The legislation, co-sponsored with Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, would codify BP's promises to pay all economic damages from the spill and forego any attempt to recover those expenditures from the federal government as a waiver of the strict liability cap under the Oil Pollution Act.
"I believe this legislation will hold BP directly accountable and make sure there is an accelerated path to recovery for the growing number of victims in the Gulf," Murkowski said.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, blocked consideration of the bill on the Senate floor. Menendez, who has been pushing his own bill to punish all oil companies for the Gulf of Mexico tragedy, said he objected because he hadn't read the Murkowski-Vitter bill.
The Murkowski-Vitter bill would also create a expedited process to pay the claims of those who are in desperate need of immediate help.
"It would make those commitments enforceable under law," Murkowski said. "The heart of this debate is understandably not about whether BP will pay, but how long it will take for victims to be compensated.
The Murkowski-Vitter bill would establish an Office of Deepwater Claims Compensation to provide timely, fair compensation, on a no-fault basis, to persons and state and local governments that have incurred damages from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
The goal is to provide a system that allows the recovery of damages through a process that doesn't require the citizens of the Gulf to hire lawyers and participate in a decades long legal process.
"After the Exxon Valdez spill, it took 20 years for the final settlement," Murkowski said. "In such a case, when you are dealing with small businesses and individuals who depend on the resources of the ocean and beaches for their very existence, justice delayed can be justice denied."
Residents and local governments of the Gulf region would have the option of pursuing their claims in court, or under the claims process. The bill provides for a claimant assistance program, including assistance for claimants and training for non-profit organizations and state and local government entities to provide additional assistance.
The bill would establish multiple resource centers in the Gulf region, located in existing federal offices, to assist claimants with the preparation and filing of claims. Claims would be required to be paid within 30 days of being approved by the claims office.
Murkowski, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is working on additional legislation to increase the liability cap for future spills, increase the overall amount of money in the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to $10 billion and require new Minerals Management Service division directors be confirmed by the Senate.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing today to consider increasing the liability cap. Murkowski said she supports raising the strict liability limits on oil companies drilling offshore above the current $75 million level, but agrees with the Obama administration that Congress needs to carefully consider what the appropriate cap should be to avoid harming American competitiveness and the nation's energy security.