Lawyers for commercial fishermen in southern Louisiana said they are “extremely concerned” about a provision in the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund that limits BP’s liability responsibility to no more than $75 million for damages that may be claimed by companies, individuals and/or the government, aside from the costs of containing and cleaning up the massive spill.

“$75 million is not even going to come close” to meeting BP’s liability in the aftermath of the fatal explosion on the Deepwater Horizon platform off the coast of Louisiana, said Val Exnicios, a New Orleans lawyer representing the United Commercial Fisherman’s Association (UCFA), a group of 500 fishermen in southeast Louisiana.

It’s going to be “potentially billions and billions of dollars in economic damages,” he said.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and other Democratic members of the New Jersey congressional delegation are said to be working on legislation that would significantly raise the economic damage liability. A Menendez spokeswoman was unable to say when the bill would be introduced. Nor is it clear whether a higher economic liability could apply retroactively to BP.

A federal court Sunday issued a temporary restraining order to the UCFA against the BP contract for oil clean-up workers, allowing the fishermen to disclose to “anyone anything that they saw in [the] oil spill-affected area,” Exnicios said.

He noted that a number of lawsuits have already been filed against BP, one of which would compel the oil giant to pay all the clean-up costs and another is a class-action involving state claims and other issues. Lawyers have not filed a specific damage amount since it’s undetermined at this point, according to Exnicios.

“Oil is coming ashore as we’re speaking,” he said. He further noted that next year’s crop for oysters and shrimp has been “significantly destroyed.”

As massive amounts of oil continues to leak into the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), the New Jersey congressional delegation has called on the Obama administration to reverse its decision to allow drilling off the East Coast in its upcoming five-year (2012-2017) leasing plan.

“We are even more steadfastly opposed to any offshore drilling that could imperil the environment or economy of coastal New Jersey,” wrote Democratic Sens. Menendez and Frank Lautenberg and Reps Frank Pallone and Rush Holt in a letter to President Obama Friday.

“While we appreciate the White House’s announcement that no additional offshore drilling will be authorized until a full investigation of the [fatal drilling explosion] is completed, we urge you to go further and reverse you decision on proposed new offshore oil and gas drilling for the Outer Continental Shelf [OCS],” the New Jersey delegation said.

In late March, the Interior Department proposed a lease sale off the coast of Virginia for 2012. It would be the first lease sale off the East Coast in nearly three decades. There has been strong support for the proposed sale by the Virginia congressional delegation, the governor of Virginia and the Virginia General Assembly (see Daily GPI, April 1).

“We believe that this action threatens New Jersey’s beautiful beaches and our substantial fishing and tourism industries with the risk of an oil spill,” the state’s congressional delegation said.

Oil spills “don’t respect state boundaries,” Menendez said on the Senate floor last week. He estimated that the oil sheen in the GOM is now about 400,000 square miles, which is about the size of Delaware.

The spill is “far worse than [was] originally reported,” he said, adding that more than one million gallons have already leaked into the GOM. It’s estimated that approximately 210,000 gallons per day are leaking from the platform. In two months, it could exceed the amount of oil leaked from the Exxon Valdez.

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