Talking back to Big Oil
  • Talking back to Big Oil
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray held a press conference today at Fisherman's Terminal, where she spoke about her commitment to a pair of pending bills that would ban oil drilling on the West Coast and raise the cap on corporate liability for oil spills from the current $75 million to $10 billion.

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About the $20 billion that BP's putting in escrow for Gulf oil spill cleanup—double the amount of her proposed liability cap—Murray said "it was a good first step toward fulfilling their responsibilities, but we all know it will not be enough."

Murray then let three people impacted by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill speak: a third- and fourth-generation father-son team of former Alaska fishermen, and the owner of a seafood processing plant, all of whom lost their livelihoods in the disaster. Asked whether BP could, like Exxon, walk away from the paying some expected damages, Murray told the press:

Ask the people behind me, who were told when the Exxon Valdez spill occurred, by Exxon, that they would be compensated, it would be cleaned up, and that they would get their livelihoods back. They’re standing in front of you today, 21 years later, saying that never happened.

Murray also mentioned that Exxon fought "tooth and nail, all the way to the Supreme Court to deny fishermen and their families from here in Washington State the compensation they were due" in Exxon v. Baker. In that case, the court reduced damage awards from the Valdez spill from $25 billion to $500 million.

Asked by the press why a permanent West Coast drilling ban was needed when almost no oil deposits have been found around Washington State, Murray said:

There is a current moratorium that goes through 2017, but it is not legislative action, and the president can overturn that or change it. So, we want to make sure that we protect our coast for the long run. It’s important because people have to make decisions now about where they’re going to invest. If they’re talking about investing in a fishing fleet, or in some lifetime economic cost, and they think there’s some potential in the future and it’s just a moratorium, it’s very hard to make those investments.

In contrast, Republican Dino Rossi, who's running to unseat Murray this fall, hasn't been supportive of a permanent West Coast drilling ban (though he does support the temporary moratorium), and he was lukewarm at best on the idea of BP creating an escrow fund (until the company, under pressure from the Obama administration, offered to do just that).

Turning to another topic that Rossi and Murray have disagreed on recently, I asked Murray about the unemployment benefits extension bill that both the House and Senate failed to pass earlier this week. She responded:

Republicans and Democrats alike have all agreed that when we hit a circumstance like we are in today, where millions of people are on unemployment and have no opportunity whatsoever to get back in a job, one of the most important things we can do to keep our economy from further eroding is to be sure that those families have extension of unemployment. It has always been treated as an emergency

I also asked if she or other Democrats would be willing to cut programs to assuage Republicans, including Rossi, who have said they will oppose all unemployment benefits extension efforts that aren't paired with cuts to other areas of the federal budget (the Republicans' demand is that the $33 billion extension effort be deficit neutral, while Murray and other Democrats contend that the extension effort is emergency legislation that doesn't need to be paired with spending cuts).

Murray didn't directly answer my question, saying only that "the Democrats are reaching across the aisle to Republicans, to invite them in to be part of this conversation instead of just saying no, which seems to be what they want to do."