GOP Prepares To Oppose Dem Energy Bill Over Oil Spill Liability

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July 28, 2010 8:34 a.m.

Despite the demise of climate change legislation last week, top Republicans are loudly opposing a new, scaled back energy bill unveiled by Senate Democrats last night.

At a press conference this morning with top Republicans, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) called it a “cobbled-together bill,” and GOP aides continue to raise the specter of a “national energy tax” despite the fact that the new legislation contains no tax on carbon emissions.

The Democratic plan, which is comprised of several measures (each of which has bipartisan support), may be in serious jeopardy, unless Democrats budge on one key issue: oil spill liability.“There are some ares where I think it’s clear that there is agreement,” Murkowski said. “I think you need to look to one key area of their bill which is the complete elimination of the liability cap…. If the answer for them is ‘no liability and no amendments to this’ I think it’s going to be very difficult to reach a compromise.”

The Democrats’ proposal would completely lift the cap on damages, forcing companies to pay for almost all costs incurred by their spills, regardless of how large. Republicans — and even some Democrats — have opposed this plan, but the GOP alternatives have long been non-starters for Democrats. Today, several top Republicans described a new option.

Liability, according to Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), would be based on “water depth where the drilling is occurring, and the company’s previous history,” and other factors. “Claims beyond the liability cap are paid for by all of the companies drilling offshore,” Barrasso said.

The plan is based on the Price-Andersen model for nuclear power plant liability, though that model does leave taxpayers on the hook in the event of a nuclear incident. But the concept of an insurance-type system has some support among Democrats, including from oil-producing states. There’s no word yet on whether Democratic leadership would be open to the GOP proposal.

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