Friday, August 6, 2010

Republicans Not Open to Compromise on Already-Compromised Oil Bill; Bill Dies

In what can hardly be viewed as a surprise, on Tuesday the Senate gave up on its oil spill bill (at least until after the August recess). As a refresher, the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Accountability Act of 2010 was the substitute that Harry Reid pushed through for the climate—nay, renewable energy—nay, energy bill that was supposed to have emerged from the Senate many months ago. Reid's reason for not even bothering to try? It didn't have 60 votes. The reason the oil spill went nowhere this week? It didn't have 60 votes. If I didn't know any better, I'd say Republicans are just banking on a strategy where they're trying to keep Democrats from scoring any victories for the rest of the year, and they're not going to cooperate on any more legislation.

Now, you might be thinking: 'I understand that Republicans don't want to give Democrats a victory, but everyone is in favor of preventing another BP oil spill, so how can they possibly defend themselves on this position?' Indeed, it's the oil spill liability cap provision that Republicans are adamantly opposing.

Crafted by Senator Menendez, that provision would eliminate the $75 million liability cap altogether, forcing oil companies to actually take into account the full risk of the dangerous and potentially catastrophic operations that they undertake. To me, this makes perfect sense. Why should government assume any of the liability of corporations whose sole motive is profit, not protecting and serving people? Oil companies should be held entirely accountable for the risks they take, just like financial giants should be held accountable for the risks they take. This will help eliminate some of the riskiest, most dangerous practices—the ones that, say, cause environmental and economic disasters in the Gulf of Mexico, or cripple the world economy.

Republicans say no. Their reasons:
  1. We weren't given enough time to review the merits of either (the Democratic or the Republican oil) bill. This is a valid argument...usually. But it's also the same argument they gave for why they wouldn't move forward on the climate bill, and that had been circling the halls of Congress in one form or another for over a year.
  2. Lifting the liability cap will hurt oil companies, and disincentivize them from drilling for more deepwater oil. If your view of capitalism is that companies should be able to take whatever measures they want, no matter the risk, in order to reap as much profit as possible, then this is true. Oil companies will be "harmed" if they are given the proper market signals telling them to mitigate the risk of their operations. But a liability cap inherently rejects the externalities and consequences of risky behavior, leaving U.S. citizens in the affected areas and the local environment to suffer horrendously.
But, in this current Senate, all you have to do is threaten a filibuster and you've essentially solidified a majority vote against the bill in question. How's that for Democracy?

Images: Majority Leader Reid (treehugger)

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