Bill to Raise Oil Spill Cap Rejected Again

| Tue May 18, 2010 1:40 PM EDT

Democrats tried again this morning to bring up their "Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act," a measure that would raise the liability cap for major oil spills from $75 million to $10 billion. And once again, that effort was shot down by Republicans—this time by the Senate's climate-change-denier-in-chief, Oklahoma's James Inhofe.

In blocking the measure, Inhofe made the same argument that Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski made last week. The two Republicans worry that a $10 billion cap would bar small players from entering the offshore drilling business. Inhofe also made sure to include some scare-mongering about China and Venezuela for good measure. Yep, that's Inhofe—always looking out for the underdogs:

Big oil would love to have these caps up there so they can shut out all the independents. Now we have independents, my state of Oklahoma, and right now 63 percent of the Gulf's natural gas and 36 percent of its oil are produced by independents. Now what you do if you raise the caps right now precipitously to this high, you will help the five big oil companies, including BP, give them exclusive rights, you help the nationalized oil companies such as those in China and Venezuela.

Unfortunately for supporters of raising the damage cap, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave Inhofe and Murkowski's obstruction a boost on Tuesday. While Salazar maintained the Obama administration's position that the cap should be raised, he indicated that $10 billion is too high (despite the fact that the Gulf spill is already on course to exceed that figure). "You don’t want only the BPs of the world to be involved in these operations," said Salazar. He said that the administration "will work with you and other members of Congress to get to a number that makes sense."

Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a co-sponsor of the bill to raise the cap, balked at Salazar's suggestion. "That simply means if you're smaller you can get away with taking the same risk and having less liability."