AK Delegation Has Its Own Plans to Help Oil Spill Victims

By Libby Casey

As President Obama lays out the ongoing federal response to the B-P oil spill blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska’s senators are unveiling their own plans to help victims. 

Senator Lisa Murkowski wants to see an office established to deal with claims quickly

This is in place of litigation.  If you’ll recall, it was just this last year the litigation claims were resolved with Exxon Valdez.  Nobody, nobody should have to go through what Alaska went through when it comes to resolution of their claims.

Murkowski says attorneys should be capped at 5 percent of what victims are paid.

She says the office she’s proposing could still be useful if B-P creates an escrow account for claims as President Obama is calling for.  She says the office could administer it.

Senator Mark Begich supports the President’s push to see an escrow account set-up.  Begich says he wants to make sure it’s not just voluntary, but has some teeth.

You’ve got to have the force of law.  And I think also it’s probably good policy, not only for this spill but future issues that the federal government should have a mechanism in place that says if you are leasing federal lands for the purposes of exploration of oil and gas there will be a formula developed if you create a spill that the Secretary of the Interior will implement and that you’ll have to put aside in a third party escrow independent situation.

Begich says B-P should not set aside billions of dollars for shareholder dividends until it first commits money to pay out compensation damages.  And he says B-P shouldn’t be left to decide which claims are “reasonable.”

Alaska’s experience is clear on this.  We’ve seen what reasonable claims are, it takes 20 years and they only give you 10%, 10 cents on the dollar.  So the thing you have to make sure is that clearly that there is the resources there first, second that there’s an independent part of this equation that doesn’t really exist right now.  Cause you have BP saying all legitimate claims, what is legitimate , no one’s defined that yet, is that someone who’s lost their biz, can’t do it for 20 years, or someone who just lost biz but will recap over the next five.  What’s legitimate?

Senator Lisa Murkowski unveiled her ideas for legislation today in Washington.  The cornerstone of her plan is to let the president set the liability caps companies would have to pay for offshore projects on a case-by-case basis, based on criteria like the its safety record, and the depth of the well.

Most of us who have automobile insurance know if you have a bad track record when it comes to your driving record, you’re going to pay a higher insurance rater for that.  Why would we not set up a similar system when it comes to the insurance and the liability component in the offshore.

Murkowski says she’s not ready to send her bill to the full senate, because she first wants to incorporate feedback she got last weekend in Cordova, where residents were severely affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  Murkowski plans to include a model for the Regional Citizens Advisory Councils that were set up in the wake of Exxon Valdez.

She doesn’t have any co-sponsors on board yet.

President Obama used his time before the American public tonight to call for Congress to pass clean energy legislation.  In the past he’s said the best way to move forward on that is to put a price on carbon.

But Murkowski says she doesn’t want to hold up Gulf spill response efforts with a bigger, sweeping agenda.  She says the first need is to help the Gulf residents.

If we can move forward independently a measure or series of measures that is going to help them, that’s what we need to be doing.  Cause if we get this all churned up in the middle of Cap and Trade, I’m afraid that we leave the people in the Gulf even more stranded then they feel, currently.

The House has already passed climate change legislation, but the Senate is at odds about how, when, and if it should move forward.


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