Sen. Murkowski: How Do You Manage To Keep Shocking Us?

Argues for billion-dollar oil company spill bailout amid ongoing Gulf spill

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Here are some facts that should provide sufficient context for the *wildly outrageous* move Sen. Murkowski pulled on the floor of the Senate today. My colleagues’ blogs on unEARTHED within the last few weeks provide much, much more background and context—definitely check those out if you haven’t already (you can start here and here).

But for expediency’s sake right now, thought I’d share just a few among a dizzying array of scary truths about the damage this oil spill is doing to our ecosystems, wildlife, fisheries, national economy—just to bring it home before getting to Murkowski’s latest:

  • Crude oil is currently gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 210,000 gallons each day.
  • After three weeks of continued spilling of oil into the Gulf and several attempts to stop the leak, BP is still unable to stop the oil from flowing. A number of extreme, exhorbitantly expensive, and even sci-fi-style-futuristic measures (involving very pricey underwater robots) to stop the leak have been attempted—and all failed.
  • An estimated 5 million gallons of oil just so far are now promising catastrophe for the region’s fishing industries, fragile ecosystems, endangered species, and hundreds of miles of coastline.
  • Scientists are questioning the toxicity and environment effects of the 400,000 gallons of chemical dispersants already dumped into the Gulf to break up the oil before it hits shore.
  • House hearings on the disaster and probes into the cause have revealed in the past few days that this historic catastrophe was caused by a series of equipment failures that could have been and should have been prevented.
  • One key step BP should have taken, but didnt’t: When building the Deepwater Horizon rig, BP decided to save $500,000 by not installing a remote-control shut-off switch that could have prevented this whole disaster and tragedy.
  • Today, BP announced that the cost of responding to the disaster has amounted to some $450 million so far—and that’s a cool $100 million more than estimates projected just a few days ago.
  • In a Reuters article today, some analysts predicted the costs of the spill could exceed $14 billion.
  • There is a 1986 law that says that in the event of an oil spill, the oil company is only liable for $75 million worth of damages.

So onto to what Murkowski did today on the Senate floor:

In response to the facts above, three Senators—Lautenberg (D-NJ), Menendez (D-NJ), and Bill Nelson (D-FL)—tried to bring their bill, the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act of 2010, which they introduced with a number of senators to prevent companies like BP from getting off the hook and leaving the American taxpayers and coastal communities with the astronomical bill after devastating spills, to a unanimous vote for passage. The Act would raise the liability cap on oil companies from $75 million to a much more appropriate $10 billion. Their efforts were blocked by none other than Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who argued that though a higher cap is necessary, this cap would prevent "mom & pop" oil companies from drilling. Her lone vote against the legislation blocked it from passage.

Maybe it would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Maybe.

This may sound too preposterous to be true, but sadly it is true. You just have to read Grist’s David Roberts’ brilliant synopsis of the audacity of this transparent Murkowski move.

Then make sure to read McClatchy’s Lesley Clark’s play-by-play of how the whole thing went down on the Senate floor this afternoon.

Liz Judge worked at Earthjustice from 2010–2016. During that time, she worked on mountaintop removal mining, national forests, and clean water issues, and led the media and advocacy communications teams.