Fresh from visits to the oil-smeared Louisiana coast, Maryland's two Democratic senators and one of its House members called today for new measures to ensure that BP pays for the damage caused by the largest petroleum spill in U.S. history.
Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin backed the Obama administration's move to get BP to set up an escrow account for paying damage claims, saying the company ought to stock the fund with $20 billion.
Mikulski said the company should set aside funds promptly, because she feared that as damages mount in the Gulf of Mexico, "the lawyers will take charge" and put BP in bankruptcy. That could slow or halt payments to harmed businesses and individuals.
Speaking at a morning news conference at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Cardin said BP, not the federal government, needs to be compensating victims of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blowout in April. "It would be outrageous for there to be any government bailout of BP."
Cardin, chairman of the Senate water and wildlife subcommittee, and Mikulski, chairwoman of an appropriations subcommittee overseeing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, visited the Louisiana coast on Friday. They flew over Grand Isle and took a boat to see oil-soaked wetlands.
President Obama has called on BP to establish an escrow account, but hasn't specified how large it should be. Senate Democrats have said BP should start by putting $20 billion in a fund overseen by an independent trustee.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, a fellow Democrat, said he and other House members are working on legislation to raise the federal cap on liability for damages caused by an offshore oil spill. Now set at $75 million above the costs of cleanup, Cummings said the liability cap for spills needs to be "commensurate with the risks."
Cummings, chairman of a House subcommittee that oversees the Coast Guard, has visited Louisiana twice to see the damage and to observe cleanup efforts. He said BP took "shortcuts" in drilling that made the blowout possible, but added that the federal government did not exercise appropriate oversight.
All three legislators said the Obama administration should push BP to do more to corral and clean up the oil that continues to spew from the blown-out well. Cardin and Mikulski said that booms deployed around Queen Bess Island were failing to protect the pelicans nesting there because the floating barriers had become saturated with oil. The government should require the company to check and clean the booms regularly, they said.
The lawmakers also said the spill is a stark reminder that the U.S. is too dependent on oil and that Congress should move forward with an energy bill.