A group of Democratic senators are calling on President Barack Obama to drop any plans for new offshore oil drilling in the wake of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The senators have also introduced new legislation to raise the limit on the amount of money oil companies could be forced to pay for economic damages from catastrophic oil spills.
Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida summed up the message of a group of three Democratic senators at a news conference Tuesday.
"I will make it short and to the point," said Senator Nelson. "The president's proposal for off-shore drilling is dead on arrival."
President Barack Obama had proposed new offshore oil drilling provisions as part of a sweeping energy and climate change bill, and as an incentive to Republicans to get them to support legislation in the Senate.
But Senator Nelson, who was joined by Democratic Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both of New Jersey made clear that there would be no new oil drilling provisions in any climate change legislation that comes out of the Senate. All three of the senators are staunch and long-standing opponents of off-shore oil drilling. Senator Menendez cited last year's catastrophic oil spill in Australia.
"With two spills in two years, we can see the obvious risk of drilling to our coastline, our environment, our economy when equipment that is supposed to be too safe to fail, fails," said Senator Menendez.
Senator Nelson said the oil spill is now threatening the Florida Keys and even the East coast of Florida because of a current known as the loop current. He said Florida has more beaches than any other U.S. state, and that tourism and fishing are crucial to its economy.
Senators Menendez, Lautenberg and Nelson introduced a bill Monday that would raise the liability cap on damages that oil companies could be forced to pay for an oil spill from $75 million to $10 billion. Senator Menendez said he is confident that the bill could apply retroactively to cover the massive oil spill that is now dumping five thousand barrels of oil a day into the Gulf Coast.
President Obama has repeatedly said that British Petroleum (BP), and not U.S. taxpayers, will pay for the massive oil spill threatening the Gulf Coast. The oil rig exploded April 20 and sank two days later. Eleven workers were killed.
BP says it will pay for all the cleanup costs from the ruptured oil well, and that it will pay compensation for legitimate claims for property damage and commercial losses stemming from the accident.
U.S. Lawmakers met with British Petroleum executives on Capitol Hill Tuesday. After the meeting, Democratic Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts said BP has a lot of questions to answer about why they did not have safeguards in place to stop the gushing oil after the initial explosion.
"Without question there is going to be a blistering, scalding indictment of the practices the industry engaged in," said Congressman Markey.
Republican Congressman Joe Barton said he still supports offshore drilling, but he also supports a thorough investigation into the causes of the oil spill.
"Again I am a proponent of outer-Continental shelf drilling, and as a proponent, I have to be able to look the American people in the eye and tell them that we are using the best safety practices and the best technology, and that we have the best probable outcome for the efficient exploration and production of those resources," said Congressman Barton.
Three House committees are planning to hold hearings on the oil spill next week.