Energy/Oil Spill Bill

By Libby Casey

Senator Mark Begich says he’s not impressed by the Democratic oil spill and energy bill introduced this week – and may even cross party lines to vote for a Republican version.

Begich says he’s sill pouring over the G-O-P bill, which just came out, but so far he likes what he sees.

We’re looking through this, if I don’t see any objections in here, I don’t mind signing on to this bill.  I might be the only Democrat that signs on, but that hasn’t prevented me in the past.

Begich says he doesn’t like that the Republican bill was crafted behind closed doors, a criticism that’s also been lobbed at the Democrats’ version.  But he says he’s willing to put that aside, and will probably know by tomorrow whether he can sign onto it.

But if I was a betting man, based on the general elements, this is a possibility for me to sign onto this.  And then I would probably want to augment with some suggestions.  Maybe get some other Democrats or not.  I don’t know.  I’ve always been a believer that there’s common ground on the energy issue in this body, but everyone’s paying power grab, who’s in charge, who’s not in charge, who’s running for election, who’s not running for election.

Begich calls the Democrats’ bill, which was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, “pretty thin” for Alaska and says it would need changes to win his support.  It doesn’t include funding for Alaska’s Regional Citizens Advisory Councils, which were set up after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

But the new one for the Gulf of Mexico gets the funding.  What’s the advantage there for Alaska?  That the gulf gets taken care of, just because they had the most recent disaster?  And the reason they can do that citizens advisory committee down there is they’re modeling it after ours that were here for 20 years!

Begich wants to establish an Arctic Citizens Advisory Council so locals have input into Arctic Ocean development.  But Governor Sean Parnell is criticizing that plan.  His special assistant Joe Balash says it could disrupt the state’s authority – and doesn’t allow the governor to appoint its members.

The question is whether we’re adding another layer of review, creating legal vulnerabilities and opportunities for litigation to stop what is otherwise rational, reasonable development.

Begich disagrees, and says his proposed Arctic Regional Citizens Advisory Council would actually mean Less legal wrangling – and says the Governor’s criticisms are off-base.

I think he’s probably misinformed about how it would work. The north slop boro, arctic slope, the whaling commission, all support this legislation.  People who are most affected by this.  Actually has the one group that should be involved, the citizens who have the right and ownership of this oil and gas, it’s the people.  And so they’ll have an opportunity.  And what’s so improtnat about this is when you do it at the front end, the odds are you will resolve issues before they turn into litigation.

The Republican bill Begich may sign on to was crafted in part by Senator Lisa Murkowski.  She slammed the Democrats’ version yesterday for removing the current 75 million dollar liability cap on economic damages from an oil spill.  Murkowski says that will cut out small operators, and enable more foreign companies to set up shop on America’s shores.

That does pose a problem about the ongoing viability of production within the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere by those other than the biggest of the big, the super-majors, and those national petroleum companies such as China Petroleum, those that can self insure.

Proponents of dropping a liability cap say all companies, no matter their size, should be responsible for clean up and liability in the event of a spill, and that the public needs assurance that taxpayers won’t get stuck with the tab.

Whether any version of the oil spill and energy bill will move forward is uncertain, since the Senate only has one more week before it breaks for the month-long August recess.


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