Big Oil Keeps Its Bailout -- For Now

Washington, D.C. -- Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski moved today to guarantee a bailout of BP and other parties responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe. Senator Robert Menendez had introduced legislation,  (The Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act) that would have ensured BP can't hide behind the $75 million liability cap that the oil industry had previously lobbied and obtained from Congress for damages from an oil spill.

But Murkowski, once again using the Senate's "Polish rules" by which a single senator can prevent the majority from legislating in a crisis, blocked consideration of the bill. By objecting to proceeding with the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act, Murkowski did a huge favor for her allies and financial supporters in the oil industry. That's because Menendez's bill not only would have protected fishermen and communities in the Gulf of Mexico from being stuck with the bill for Big Oil's recklessness at Deepwater Horizon -- it would also have ensured that, as the oil industry moves into even more-dangerous Arctic waters of  the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, it would be held accountable for future catastrophes.

BP itself had earlier promised not to hide behind the $75 million liability shield, and claimed that it would pay any legitimate claims.

In cosponsoring Menendez's bill, Florida Senator Bill Nelson expressed his disbelief of this promise:

"BP says it'll pay for this mess. Baloney. They're not going to want to pay any more than what the law says they have to, which is why we can't let them off the hook."

And sure enough, just a few hours before Murkowski bailed out Big Oil, Transocean, BP's partner in Deepwater Horizon, filed a motion in federal court not only to hide behind the $75 million liability limit, but to use an antiquated 1851 maritime law to limit its liability to only $27 million. Maritime law was the basis for Exxon's dodging most of its liability for the Valdez oil spill, and now Transocean plans to use the same standards -- written for merchant ships but now being applied to enormous oil platforms on the reasoning that, if it floats, it must be a "vessel."

Murkowski's Polish veto won't be the end of this battle. Menendez will try to attach his bill to other energy legislation as it comes to the Senate floor. But her action today makes it clear that she is not just the Senior Senator from Alaska -- she's also the Senator from Big Oil.