House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wants to move quickly on legislation that would significantly raise the $75 million cap on a producer’s liability for economic damages from oil spills in the offshore, a spokesman said.

“The Holt bill, yes, the Speaker hopes it will move to the floor quickly. She supports the legislation,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill, referring to a House companion bill introduced by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and several lawmakers representing coastal states.

The House legislation would raise the existing $75 million cap on liability for economic damages from offshore oil spills to $10 billion. And the liability would be made retroactive to place BP “on the hook for the economic damages resulting from the Gulf Coast spill,” according to Holt.

The House bill is similar to legislation introduced by Sens. Robert Mendez (D-NJ), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) (see Daily GPI, May 5).

“Our bill is clear: the buck stops with oil companies; it shouldn’t spill over to taxpayers,” Holt said. Congressional efforts to increase the liability cap come weeks after a fire broke out on the Deepwater Horizon rig that led to a fatal explosion and ultimately to a massive oil spill that, despite repeated attempts to contain the oil and shut off gushing wells, threatens the southern coast of Louisiana.

The Obama administration has indicated that it supports congressional steps to raise the liability level. But even under the existing law, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer indicated that BP could be held to a higher liability level. “If BP is found to be grossly negligent or to have engaged in willful misconduct or conduct in violation of federal regulations, then there is no cap under this specific law for damages. Simply put the $75 million cap on damages under the Oil Pollution Act would not apply under the circumstances,” The Hill reported Pfeiffer saying.

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