On the Senate floor a few moments ago, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J), and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) asked for unanimous consent to pass their Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act of 2010, which would raise the liability cap on offshore drilling accidents from $75 million to $10 billion. Unanimous consent simply means the bill passes without all the usual Senate procedural folderol.
Now, ask yourself: Who could object to this? Does anyone really think BP should only have to pay $75 million — a drop in the bucket relative to what’s necessary; an even smaller drop in the bucket of BP’s profits — to clean up the Gulf oil catastrophe? What possible justification could there be for objecting? Surely if anything deserves unanimous consent, it’s this, right?
You underestimate the Republican party. None other than Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski stood up to object. Yes, the senator from the state that got hammered by the Exxon Valdez spill objected to raising the liability cap.
And what was her argument? If the liability cap is raised, that might exclude small oil companies from being able to get the insurance and financing necessary to drill offshore. After all, only the oil giants could afford $10 billion. That is to say: only the oil giants can afford to clean up after themselves.
You’re not dreaming. That’s really the argument. Murkowski wants small, independent oil companies to be able to privatize the profits of offshore drilling but offload the financial risks to the public. And she frames it as avoiding a “Big Oil monopoly” on drilling. She’s just defending mom-and-pop oil shops! The gall is breathtaking.
Murkowski also noted that victims of the spill are able to file lawsuits in affected states, where there’s no cap on punitive damages. Menendez followed up to point out that many of the state lawsuits on the Exxon Valdez spill dragged on for more than 20 years and many plaintiffs died or withdrew before receiving a penny. You’d think the senator from Alaska, of all people, would know that.
Murkowski has made something of a specialty of being the Senate’s concern troll. She purports to agree with greens’ objectives — reducing carbon, boosting efficiency, forcing oil companies to pay for cleanup — but somehow always manages to oppose the specific means. This has been particularly clear when it comes to carbon regulation. She’s leading the fight to block EPA’s ability to regulate CO2, arguing that Congress should do it instead … but then of course she objects to all of the actual bills put forward to do so. If Congress actually passes a bill, it’s likely to preempt EPA regulations anyway, but for some reason Murkowski wants to take that weapon out of EPA’s hands before a bill passes. Now why would she want that? It’s almost like she’s trying to insure the carbon regulations are indefinitely delayed or as weak as possible, while pretending to support them.
Her act is wearing thin. Nobody’s buying it any more. Nobody I’ve talked to in D.C. still believes she is acting in good faith. After today’s performance on the Senate floor, it’s difficult to argue otherwise.
Nelson is not happy. Just after the vote he tweeted that Murkowski had “sandbagged” the bill. Harry Reid isn’t happy either, saying in a statement:
Inexplicably, Republicans are protecting negligent oil companies like BP and blocking our efforts to prevent a BP bailout. Through their obstruction, Republicans are leaving taxpayers on the hook to pay for BP’s negligence.