Bill Would Lift North Carolina’s Oil Spill Liability Cap

June 14, 2010

North Carolina’s current cap for monetary damages it could receive from oil spills would be eliminated in legislation approved last week by a House committee in response to the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Environmental groups lined up behind the legislation, which they say would ensure oil companies would be fully liable for damages to oil spills originating from facilities in North Carolina’s coastal fishing waters should exploration be allowed to expand, as the Obama administration’s plans entail.

The measure would decouple North Carolina from the federal government’s cap of all removal costs plus $75 million. The Legislature last tinkered with the issue 20 years ago.

“The spill like the one in the Gulf could seriously damage our coast and the economy that depends on it,” Margaret Hartzell with Environment North Carolina told lawmakers.

The state’s tourism and fishing industry could take years to recover from such a spill, not counting the grave environmental effects, said Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, one of the bill’s supporters. Harrison said the measure could apply to damage caused by the BP spill in April if oil reaches the North Carolina coast after the bill becomes law.

The bill also directs state regulators to seek more information before deciding if any offshore oil or gas facility was consistent with state guidelines for land and water use. State agencies also would be ordered to examine the state’s plan for cleaning up after an oil spill like the underwater BP spill.

Rep. Pryor Gibson, D-Anson, a committee member, said it appears the legislation was being rushed through the House and questioned whether it would make any difference to better prepare the state for a clean up or protect the coastline.

The bill now heads to a House judiciary committee.

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