Gulf oil spill: Obama administration warns BP it's on the hook for all damages, not the taxpayers
The Obama administration warned BP in a strongly worded letter Saturday that the federal government expects the oil giant -- and not taxpayers -- to pay all damages associated with the ongoing Gulf of Mexico oil leak, even if they exceed the $75-million liability cap under federal law.
Two Cabinet secretaries, Ken Salazar of Interior and Janet Napolitano of Homeland Security, wrote to BP chief executive Tony Hayward to reiterate the administration's position that "BP is accountable to the American public for the full clean up of this spill and all the economic loss caused by the spill and related events."
The secretaries noted that BP has promptly paid damages claims thus far, and that company officials have repeatedly said they'll pay all "legitimate claims" stemming from the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig and subsequent, ongoing leak of thousands of barrels a day.
In light of those statements, Salazar and Napolitano wrote, "we understand that BP will not in any way seek to rely on the potential $75 million statutory cap to refuse to provide compensation to any individuals or others harmed by the oil spill, even if more than $75 million is required to provide full compensation to all claimants, and BP will not seek reimbursement from the American taxpayers, the United States Government, or the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for any amount.
"The public has a right to a clear understanding of BP's commitment to redress all of the damage that has occurred or that will occur in the future as a result of the oil spill. Therefore, in the event that our understanding is inaccurate, we request immediate public clarification of BP's true intentions."
An Interior spokeswoman said that the letter was not in response to any specific action from BP.
[Update 3:04 p.m.: New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, whose effort to speed up a bill raising the $75 million limit was thwarted by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, praised the Obama letter.
"BP has been careful to use qualifying words when discussing its financial responsibility for the damage it is causing, which raises concerns that the corporation will evade paying for it in full," he said. "Regardless of what BP ends up committing to pay for this disaster, there is no such thing as a 'Too Safe To Spill' oil rig, and there should be no legal wiggle room for oil companies that devastate coastal businesses and communities -- now or in the future."]
--Jim Tankersley, in Houston
Photo: At the Fort Jackson, La., Oiled Wildlife Center, a female brown pelican cleans its wings after taking a bath in the small pool in the pen. The bird was found on May 12 near Grand Isle and brought to the center. It was washed and placed in the pen for recovery until it is strong enough to be released. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was due to visit the center Saturday. Credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times