US Senate Democrats failed Thursday in a bid to quickly pass legislation that would dramatically increase oil firms' economic liability after massive spills like the one soiling the Gulf of Mexico.
The measure, pushed by lawmakers from New Jersey and Florida, would raise the ceiling on damages an oil company could have to pay for things like lost tourism or fishing revenue from 75 million dollars to 10 billion.
The bill is one of many seeking to show voters ahead of November elections that the US Congress is tough on oil companies like British energy giant BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.
Democratic Senators Robert Menendez, Frank Lautenberg, and Bill Nelson sought immediate passage by the "unanimous consent" of all senators, but Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski objected, temporarily stalling the legislation.
Murkowski, from Alaska, a top US oil-producing state, said she favored raising caps in principle but warned of "unintended consequences" from such a move, saying that it could squeeze small or mid-size oil firms out of the offshore drilling business.
"Either you want to fully protect the small businesses and communities devastated by a man-made disaster, or you want to protect multi-billion dollar oil companies from being held fully accountable," said Menendez.
"Apparently, there are some in the senate who prefer to protect the oil companies," he said after the vote.
"Even children understand a basic rule: if you break it, you pay for it. But clearly there are some in the senate who don't think the rules of fairness should apply to Big Oil," said Lautenberg.
Not to be outdone, Republican Senators David Vitter of Louisiana and Jeff Sessions of Alabama unveiled legislation that would set the liability cap at a sum equal to the last four quarters of the responsible party's profits or double the current limit, whichever amount is greater.
"Under our bill, the bigger companies would be liable for more than the 10 billion dollar cap others propose," said Vitter, stressing that lawmakers must make oil firms "actually pay for their mistakes without chasing many of them out of business."
Source: AFP American Edition