Opening Statement of Senator Barbara Boxer
"Legislative Hearing on S. 3305, The Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act of 2010"
June 9, 2010
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Today, we will hear from fishermen, tourism officials, and legal experts about the drastic and heartbreaking economic damages caused by a significant oil spill and the need to pass legislation to ensure that the people whose jobs and livelihoods are impacted are made whole again.
I want to thank all the dedicated people who are now in the Gulf responding to the current disaster. This includes 17,500 National Guard troops, more than 20,000 federal personnel, and countless state and local officials who are working day and night to protect and clean up the coast.
As Chairman of this Committee, I want to unequivocally state that I want to make available as many people as it takes to clean up the mess, with BP paying the bill as is required by current law.
But, as we know from previous oil spills, the road to recovery can be long and arduous. The Exxon Valdez spill showed how protracted and painful this experience can be.
On March 24, 1989, shortly after midnight, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling more than 11 million gallons of crude oil, which eventually contaminated 1,300 miles of shoreline. The spill decimated fisheries, and upended the lives of thousands that depended on the precious natural resources in Prince William Sound.
Exxon reached a settlement agreement for $900 million to restore injured natural resources over a period of ten years.
But more court cases followed and Exxon continued to successfully fight the Court's ruling of an additional 5 billion dollars to Alaskan fishermen, natives, and businesses. In 2006, an appeals court cut this to $2.5 billion, and in 2008 - nearly 20 years after the spill - the case wound its way to the Supreme Court who cut the amount Exxon owed even further to $507 million. After two decades of waiting, each plaintiff received roughly $15,000.
Exxon successfully fought to minimize the economic damages it paid after the spill, leaving many without adequate compensation. And while the court cases played out, the impacts of the oil spill continued.
The Prince William Sound herring fishery has been closed for the majority of the 21 years since the spill. Further, surveys conducted since 2001 indicate that as much as 21,000 gallons of oil remain on the coasts of Prince William Sound.
Congress responded to Exxon Valdez by enacting the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which included reforms. But it had serious shortcomings. Recent events make that clear.
The Oil Pollution Act says the party responsible for a spill at an offshore facility only has to pay $75 million for economic and natural resources damages. This is a recipe for another horrible, unfair and long road.
In the wake of the disaster in the Gulf, we must act. Already, businesses are complaining that BP is not acting on claims.
Coming from California, where our coastal tourism, recreation, and fishing ocean economies generate $23.0 billion in economic activity and support 388,000 jobs, I believe it is critical we protect those whose jobs and livelihoods could be devastated by a spill that was no fault of their own. Shielding companies from responsibility for damages sends the wrong signal. If anything, it increases the risk to the public.
If you or I caused an accident, we must be responsible for all the damages - no caps in that case, and there should be no caps in this case.
The law should be clear that the polluter pays for the damages they cause. Period.
I look forward to the testimony from our witnesses today.
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