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US Republicans assail trimmed Democratic energy plan

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) July 28, 2010
US Senators feuded Wednesday over whether oil firms should have to pay for all economic damages from spills like the Gulf of Mexico disaster, a dispute that could sink a pared-back energy bill.

President Barack Obama's Democratic allies unveiled the trimmed-down proposal late Tuesday after setting aside a comprehensive climate change approach for lack of votes, only to run headlong into Republican opposition.

Top Republicans accused Democrats of excluding their ideas and zeroed in on a measure in the majority's bill that would expand oil firms' liability in major spills by removing a 75-million-dollar cap on economic damages.

The provision would notably apply to BP in the case of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose side unveiled its energy plan last week, accused Democrats of "doing their best to keep us from passing a serious energy bill" before a month-long August break.

"Our energy bill would give the president the ability to raise the liability caps on economic damages done by companies like BP -- without driving small independent oil producers out of business," he said.

The Republican plan would let regulators set the liability limit on individual drilling operations based on criteria like the firm's safety record.

Democrats quickly accused Republicans of siding with BP instead of the US public, a potentially potent argument ahead of November mid-term elections, in which the sour economy is expected to hurt Democrats.

"Does anyone who has been watching the images coming in from the Gulf believe that we should be protecting multi-billion dollar oil companies instead of the small businesses, fisheries and coastal residents who are losing their livelihoods?" asked Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.

Democrats could seek to advance their energy bill next week, but stiff opposition from Republicans and at least one Democrat, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, to provisions like the liability cap removal make success unlikely.

"Republicans should come to their senses and remember that they represent the American people, not BP," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"Republicans want taxpayers to foot the bill for BP's disaster and allow BP to use endless legal battles to run out the clock on those whose livelihoods they destroyed," said Manley.

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