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Outrageous: Sen. Lisa Murkowski Tries to Defend Oil Spill Victims, BP at the Same Time

Yesterday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) toured areas of Louisiana hardest hit by the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Drawing comparisons to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, Murkowski promised fisherman that lawmakers are doing everything they can to ensure that "the mistakes that were made in Alaska are not repeated here in the Gulf of Mexico." "It's going to take a commitment to make sure that the people of Louisiana and the fishermen and their families are not treated in a similar manner as we saw played out some 20 years ago,” Murkowski said. Meanwhile, in a press release, Murkowski defended her recent decision to block a voice vote on legislation that would increase the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund’s $75 million cap on corporate payments.
"…there has been considerable debate -- along with major misunderstandings -- about liability for the Deepwater Horizon spill and what parts of that liability are or are not limited," Murkowski said in the release. "Among the most often repeated mischaracterizations is the idea that BP is only responsible for $75 million of the likely billions in total spill costs." The reality is that the $75 million figure is drawn from just one provision on strict liability in the Oil Pollution Act, and has nothing to do with the expressly unlimited liability provided for cleanup costs. Even more important, it has nothing to do with the law's authorization for unlimited damages allowed under various state laws.
Contradictions, anyone? This sort of paradoxical politicking -- defending the victims of a reckless industry while simultaneously defending said reckless industry -- is nothing new for Murkowski. After all, she’s both a ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the third largest U.S. benefactor of campaign money from the oil and gas industry. In a recent piece, I hashed out how thin this line between mouthpiece and interrogator really is. Still, it’s important to highlight one feature of her pro-industry argument that’s particularly murky: the law’s authorization of what she calls “unlimited damages” are actually limited by BP. Indeed, BP has reiterated that it will only pay damages in the form of what it calls “legitimate claims.” As a recent NPR report pointed out, nobody knows what the hell a “legitimate claim” is, and BP isn’t talking. Additionally, Murkowski has used the gulf disaster as a platform to push for more drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge -- even as a new leak pollutes the state. (Yes, BP is involved; the company owns 51 percent of this pipeline). All the while, she’s claimed to be on the side of the victims. But she can’t have it both ways.
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