June 8th, 2010
01:05 PM ET
8 years ago

Key senators call for lifting of oil liability caps


Workers cleared a Pensacola, Florida beach Monday as oil residue washed ashore . (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Washington (CNN) - Top Senate Democrats called Tuesday for a sweeping overhaul of the nation's corporate liability laws in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, arguing that companies currently have little incentive to make safety and environmental concerns a top priority.

Specifically, the senators blasted a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that cut the amount of punitive damages a jury awarded to victims of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill by $2 billion. They also criticized the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, which would potentially limit BP's liability for economic damages incurred by the Gulf spill to $75 million. Critics note that the amount is a small fraction of the cost a major oil spill like the Gulf disaster will inflict on communities.

At the same time, the senators sharply questioned an 1851 law limiting shipowners' post-accident liability to the value of a sunken vessel. Rig owner Transocean used the law in the days immediately following the April 20 explosion to attempt to limit its liability to $26 million.

The various measures were the focus of what became a heated hearing conducted by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Filed under: Energy
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. gt

    the price needs to be able to justify the risk

    June 8, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  2. Save America, impeach the treasonous republicans

    Good luck trying to get regulations that would help Americans. The republicans in the senate can put an indefinite hold on any change in order to help their cronies in big oil.

    June 8, 2010 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  3. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    If there are no caps on profits for BIG OIL there should be no caps on liability....

    June 8, 2010 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  4. thor

    Just like they went after tobacco companies to help them get large sums of money via fines they are going after big oil.It's not that they care about people ,it's that they see a big pot of cash.For instance how much of the money that tobacco companies actually went to health related issues.Most of it went to pork spending that helped the individuals stay in power or to laywers to line their pockets.

    June 8, 2010 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  5. Richard Miller in Montana

    I think that it is time that all 535 congress people get the oil companies hands out of their collective back pockets and do something right for a change. Let us see now how courageous these fast talking senators and congresspersons can remove this cap system. I caution you, don't hold your breath!

    June 8, 2010 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  6. Linda

    And how many oil "special interest" lobbyists are waiting in line at
    the offices of every Senator and member of Congress?

    Do we need to go into total darkness before members of Congress get up off their backsides and do something to save our planet?

    June 8, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  7. Krissy

    It's time to seize the moment. Republican senators wouldn't dare oppose these measures in today's climate. Republicans have favored corporations over the American People for too long.

    The recent ruling by a GOP-packed Supreme Court stating that corporations are entitled to the same "free speech" protections that PEOPLE are shows this to voters if they had any doubt before.

    June 8, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  8. Stacie

    Lift the cap...BP, Transocean and Halliburton need to pay for all the damage they created. I believe Sen. Durbin said it best, "If you cannot accept that liability, stay the hell out of the business."

    June 8, 2010 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  9. GI Joe

    Careful – If President obama likes the idea, the GOP will fillibuster that too.

    Vote out the party of NO.

    June 8, 2010 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  10. Victim of GOP Taliban

    Gee half the Gulf federal judges take money or own Big Oil interests. Wonder if any of the Conservative jerks in the Supreme Court also get $ from Big Oil? Has anyone even bothered to investigate? It's 2010 and only now does the AP report about half of the Gulf fed judges get $.

    Who knew that Bush, Cheney, and Sec Rice all either owned Big Oil companies, were CEO's or on the Board of Directors – not to mention having a supertanker named in their honor.

    June 8, 2010 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  11. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    You can thank Dick Cheney/Halliburton for this, check the facts.

    June 8, 2010 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  12. Chessnutz of Liverpool NY

    We have regulations already in place that these three companies either ignored or used short cuts around that caused the loss of eleven lives!
    What we need is to enforce the laws we have, The three companies involved not only have to pay for every dime lost to their incompetence but they must also face criminal charges and go to JAIL!
    We have laws that apply to individuals and we must also make these laws apply to too big to fail business as well.

    June 8, 2010 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  13. 8

    Obama should send the military out to help clean up the spill - then hand the bill to BP. There should be no limit to BP's liability. They made a mess - they need to clean it up. Every pre-schooler is taught that!
    Enough is enough: It has been over 40 days - BP needs to stop the gusher and our government needs to see to it that BP does.

    June 8, 2010 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  14. Ben in Texas

    What logic is there in the notion that corporations should not pay 100% of the cost of damages they cause? Plus punitive damages, in some cases? Would right wingers ever propose to cap sentences for murderers, because "life" might be excessive?

    If a corporation is a person, as the neo-cons claim, then count me as one for law and order, with the full force of the law imposed on evil-doing corporations.

    June 8, 2010 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  15. Slick William

    Now what I would like to see is Congress placing caps on campaign fund contributions, term limits and special interest bribes, er uh, I mean political gratuities...Funny how they all want jump on when it isn't in their own special interest. How about some congressional and Federal paycuts to reflect what their policies are doing to the private side? Instead, we get a tax hike to make sure their pension plans remain uscathed and grow while the private side gets NOTHING, takes the hit and has no hope for anything in the near or foreseeable future.

    June 8, 2010 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  16. BillE

    The GOP will vote in favor of big oil! Hows that workin out for ya?

    June 8, 2010 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  17. Nom Deplume, Esq.

    The left can end offshore drlliing. All it needs is the votes of congresspeople who think like my friend. When I asked him if he wanted to see $6 a gallon gas he said no. He wanted $7 a gallon gas.

    Yes We Can!

    Question is, do you want to?

    June 8, 2010 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  18. Jerry

    The story would lead you to believe that exxon paid the two billion, not the case-–the US tax payers did.

    June 8, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  19. Larry

    After the Exxon Valdez spill.....

    How was any kind of a cap for liability acted into law?

    June 8, 2010 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  20. Duck Fallas

    This is ridiculous. These caps are put in place to protect small drillers. Small drillers that cause more than 75 million dollars of damage. You wouldn't want to see a small driller go under just because of a majpr spill, would you?

    June 8, 2010 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  21. JonDie

    There is NO reason to have caps...other than to protect oil companies. But since ALL Republicans and not a few Democrats work primarily for the oil companies, I'll be surprised to see them do the right thing and lift the caps.

    June 8, 2010 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  22. Johnathan

    BP deserves to pay dearly for cutting safety corners in search of the almighty dollar. Expect beholden republicans, gatekeepers of corporate domination of american politics, to fight this all the way.

    I was listening to Cornyn blast Obama this weekend and then it hit me: Hey, what party is he with? (republican) What state is he from? (Texas). Is that an oil state (Yes).

    No further questions, your honor. I ask that his statements be stricken from the record.

    June 8, 2010 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  23. ZacATL

    Back in the day, when a company went down like this, the top guys were thrown in debtors prison if they couldn't pay the bills. Now we have incorporation, limited liability, bankruptcy protection, and golden parachutes.

    June 8, 2010 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  24. Dano

    Antiquated laws like this need to be amended to reflect modern values. Let's face it 26 million to any of these 3 multi-billion dollar companies is like pocket change to the average American. It would be cheaper to pay this amount than to upgrade their equipment with the latest safety features. Until the penalty for failing to do so is sufficient to hurt their bottom line, they will fail to do so.

    June 8, 2010 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  25. Paul

    That's NOT OIL their cleaning up! ITS SEA WEED!


    June 8, 2010 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
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