How High Should Congress Set the Liability Cap?


At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar essentially agreed with Republican opponents of a bill to raise the liability cap for oil spills to $10 billion, arguing that it would keep smaller companies out of the drilling business.

But on Tuesday afternoon, after two failed attempts to pass the measure, President Barack Obama issued a statement calling on the Senate to approve the $10 billion cap—leaving some of us (or at least, me) wondering what the administration actually thinks about the issue.

Here’s Obama’s statement:

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. 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.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that he doesn’t think there should be any cap on payouts, in light of the fact that the estimates on the BP spill are already as high as $14 billion (and climbing).

So what, if any, limit should Congress set on how much BP and other oil companies have to pay out in the event of a spill? Some clear direction from leadership might help the process.

  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.

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