Washington - U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bill Nelson (D-FL), vocal opponents of oil drilling in Cuban waters, today introduced legislation to ensure Americans affected by oil spills that originate in foreign waters can hold these polluters accountable and seek full compensation for their damages. Repsol, a Spanish oil company, is currently sending a drilling rig to begin exploration in Cuban waters, less than 80 miles from the Florida Keys. An oil spill in these waters could be devastating to American fisherman, coastal communities, and tourism businesses.
"When it comes to laws that should protect Americans from foreign oil polluters, there must be no ambiguity about who is to be held fully accountable - the polluter," said Menendez. "Hopefully, companies seeking to drill in Cuban waters will think twice once they know they would be fully liable for any damages to the Florida Keys, South Florida beaches, or if the spill reached the Gulf Stream, anywhere up the East Coast."
"Our goal here is to hold foreign oil companies liable if they have a spill that reaches U.S. waters," Nelson said. "It's in part aimed at the situation in Cuba, where Repsol is planning to drill. If there's a spill there we could lose part of the Everglades, or the Keys, or the coral reefs, or our fishing industry or tourism - and jobs. That's why the U.S. needs to carry a big stick."
Current law contains ambiguities that might allow a polluter to argue that suits could not be brought directly against them under the Oil Pollution Act, the main body of law that protects Americans from oil spills. The legislation the two senators introduced would change this provision to ensure thatUS claimants can sue foreign spillers directly. The bill would also remove the $75 million liability cap for spills emanating from foreign waters, and would also ensure that US spill victims could avail themselves of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for such spills.
Menendez and Nelson previously introduced legislation to eliminate the current $75 million cap on liability for oilspills and to eliminate the $1 billion cap on the use of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. This is the only way to ensure all oil drillers operate safely and are fully on the hook to make all those damaged by oil spills whole.