Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli said Tuesday that the Justice Department does not support the “arbitrary cap” on damages a company is required to pay for an oil spill.
The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was enacted in the wake of the Exxon Valdez tanker oil spill, capped parties’ responsibility for damages to natural resources, property and the livelihoods of people at $75 million.
The issue of a damages cap for oil spills has taken on new significance in the wake of the British Petroleum drilling rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last month.
BP officials have testified before Congress that they will not limit themselves to the restriction and will pay all justifiable claims. Congress is working with the Obama administration on legislation that would make changes to the cap — either by increasing or eliminating it. A group of Democratic Senators, led by Robert Menendez of New Jersey, have proposed increasing the cap to $10 billion.
At a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Perrelli said the DOJ will hold BP to its word. But he declined to comment on whether the BP statements were legally binding.
The Associate Attorney General said the Obama administration is “focused on going forward” and is not pushing for legislation that would ensure that BP keeps its promise.
“They have made that commitment,” Perrelli told members of the panel. “We take that seriously and we will work with them to ensure that they do so. I think our focus on the legislative proposal is a transition into a new liability regime.”
Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking panel Republican, were a part of a Senate delegation that visited the Gulf Coast on Monday to assess the damage. The senators said BP must be held accountable for the disaster.
The DOJ has brought together prosecutors from the DOJ Civil and Environment and Natural Resources divisions as well as U.S. Attorneys in the Gulf Coast region to work on efforts to address the legal issues surrounding the April spill, Perrelli said.
The Associate Attorney General said the DOJ’s mandate is to “recover every dime of taxpayer funds” that are used to handle the disaster.
“We have been working tirelessly … [to] ensure that the American people do not pay for any of the damages for which others are responsible,” Perrelli said.