Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., along with Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has introdcued a bill that would hold polluters accountable for oil spills that originate in foreign waters. The legislation targets offshore drilling in Cuban waters, where the Spanish oil giant Repsol is set to begin work in December.
"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."
Nelson said that current law contains ambiguities that could keep those who are affected by an oil spill in foreign water from suing under the Oil Pollution Act, the main body of law governing oil spills. The senators' bill will allow U.S. claimants to sue foreign spillers directly. It also remove the $75 million liability cap for spills emanating from foreign waters, and would also ensure that U.S. spill victims could tap the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund in such spills. (After last year's BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, both Nelson and Menendez tried unsuccessfully to remove the existing liability cap for spills originating in U.S. waters.)
Earlier this week, Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, also introduced legislation that targets the possibility of oil spills originating in Cuban waters. His bill has a slightly different bent, calling for the liability cap and penalties to be tripled if the spill originates from a country that's considered by the U.S. to be a state sponsor of terrorism.