By David Gura

In an interview that will air on NPR's All Things Considered this evening, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), said "the nature of deep-water drilling has changed" since the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) was passed in 1990, following the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

"We are going greater and greater into the ocean floor, and the risks are greater and greater," he told host Robert Siegel.

Menendez is co-sponsor of a bill that would raise the damage liability cap for oil drilling accidents from $75 million to $10 billion. To come up with the new amount, the senator said he weighed the consequences of a spill like the one in the Gulf of Mexico on tourism, commercial fishermen, seafood processing plants, and coastal communities.

Menendez told Siegel he is confident the bill could withstand any legal challenges, citing the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, or Superfund legislation, as precedent.

The senator said he wants to make sure Americans affected by oil spills are not held responsible for clean-up costs, and he thinks a higher cap would incentivize corporations to invest more money in safety and accident prevention.

Menendez had little sympathy for an argument Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) advanced this Sunday on NBC's Meet The Press. McConnell said a higher cap would make it difficult for smaller energy companies to compete in the oil business.

"At some point, there are a lot of smaller companies than BP, but they're not mom-and-pop companies," Menendez told Siegel. "Several of these independent operators are $40 billion in net worth."

categories: Congress

1:45 - May 17, 2010