Senate Republicans Balk at Raising Oil Companies’ Spill Liability

May 19, 2010

President Barack Obama said Tuesday he was disappointed that a measure to lift limits on oil firm liability for spills had stalled in the U.S. Senate, and blasted Republicans he said had stopped it.

“I am disappointed that an effort to ensure that oil companies pay fully for disasters they cause has stalled in the United States Senate on a partisan basis,” the Democratic president said in a statement.

“This maneuver threatens to leave taxpayers, rather than the oil companies, on the hook for future disasters like the BP oil spill,” he said, referring to the massive Gulf of Mexico spill from a well owned by London-based BP.

Senate Democrats Tuesday tried for the second time in a week to bring a bill to dramatically lift a cap on oil companies’ liability for spills to the Senate floor for a debate and vote, only to have Republicans block it. Democrats accused them of siding with Big Oil.

Republicans said the new cap could hurt smaller drillers.

“Big Oil would love to have these caps up there so they can shut out all the independents,” said Republican Senator James Inhofe, who on Tuesday stopped the bill from coming to the Senate floor.

“I urge the Senate Republicans to stop playing special interest politics and join in a bipartisan effort to protect taxpayers and demand accountability from the oil companies,” Obama said.

Obama, who said on Monday he would create a presidential commission to investigate the cause of the Gulf of Mexico spill, has been working to show leadership on an issue that has dominated public attention and raised questions about oil companies’ safety practices and loose government oversight.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Rick Cowan, editing by Paul Simao)

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