Taxpayers may foot oil-spill bill

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Published: May 14,2010

Tags: Congress, offshore drilling, oil and gas, oil spill

While government leaders, including President Barack Obama, have said they want BP to pay for all of the cost of the oil spill disaster, it is looking more and more likely that taxpayers will be forced to foot at least some of the bill.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, yesterday indicated his desire for the Senate to debate and pass an emergency supplemental spending bill needed that would support U.S. military and diplomatic efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and meet other critical needs around the nation, including the Gulf oil leak as well as recovery efforts from tornadoes and flooding and Hurricane Katrina.

Cochran supported Senate Appropriations Committee passage of the FY2010 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill (HR.4899). The $58.8-billion measure, based on a funding request submitted to Congress by the President in January, is now available for consideration by the full Senate.

The overall bulk of funding in HR.4899 would support United States overseas contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. The committee recommends $32.7 billion for ongoing Department of Defense and Department of State operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another $2.8 billion was approved for emergency relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction support related to the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti.

The committee also recommended $5.1 billion to replenish the nearly depleted federal Disaster Relief Fund managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The funding is intended to ensure that FEMA has sufficient funding this year to address emergencies around the nation, including the tornado and Katrina recovery efforts in Mississippi.

The committee also adopted a $68-million amendment offered by Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Cochran to supplement federal agency efforts to address the ongoing oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig that exploded and sank into the Gulf of Mexico in April.

“We are confronted by a tragic and still unfolding disaster. All of us hope that the spill will soon be contained, and that we will be able to turn our full attention to cleanup, as needed. Our amendment is not meant to be the final word on the oil spill response, but I think it is as much as we should do today with the information currently available to us. The committees with jurisdiction over oil taxes, oil spill liability and other aspects of this disaster deserve to be heard on those matters. I hope the Senate will take a careful and deliberate approach to those spill-related matters that are not integral to the immediate response, but which may have long-term impacts on our nation’s environment and energy security.”

Among the items included in the oil spill recovery amendment, which was based on an administration proposal unveiled Wednesday, is:

• Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund – Increases to $100 million from $75 million the maximum cap on payments from the Fund for economic damages

• Department of the Interior – $29 million for increased inspections, enforcement, investigations, and environmental and engineering studies

• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – $13 million for responding to economic impacts on fishermen and fishery-dependent businesses

• NOAA – $7 million for scientific investigations and sampling, with universities, colleges and other research partners eligible for grants to support this work

• Economic Development Administration – $5 million for Economic Development Assistance Programs

• Environmental Protection Agency – $2 million for a study on the potential human and environmental risks and the impact of the release of crude oil and subsequent mitigation activities

• Food and Drug Administration – $2 million for food safety monitoring and response activities

• Department of Justice – $10 million for the civil defense litigation within the DOJ Civil Division and Environment and Natural Resources Division

Cochran has previously stressed that industry will ultimately be responsible for paying for costs associated with the cleanup and recovery from the Deepwater Horizon accident.

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