Will N.C. make oil spillers pay?

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The race is on: oil spill vs. protection for the N.C. coast. With reports of the underwater spill in the Gulf being much larger than BP initially admitted, concerns are mounting that part of the spill, if caught in the right currents, could eventually flow around Florida and up the Atlantic coast. Thankfully, someone in Raleigh is paying attention.

The state House is taking up a bill that would do away with the cap on liability for damages to North Carolina caused by oil spills. Currently, the state is locked into the federal cap, which is $75 million, but the House bill would lift any limits on how much N.C. could get from any company responsible for spills of oil or other hazardous materials off the state’s coast. The bill has made it through the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee, and now goes to a Judiciary Committee for the next stage in the running-in-quicksand process known as the General Assembly.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, is one of the bill’s primary sponsors, and is supported by Mecklenburg reps Becky Carney, Kelly Alexander, Martha Alexander, and everyone’s friend, Nick Mackey.  Harrison says the coast, and the N.C. tourism industry, should be protected in the event of an environmental catastrophe such as the one currently defiling the Gulf Coast. She says keeping the limit on damages paid by companies that cause ecological and economic wreckage would leave the state with little chance of a full recovery without tapping into taxpayers’ pockets.

The bill also calls for a review of the state’s requirements for offshore drilling permits, and of N.C.’s plans for handling large oil spills. Like clockwork, oil company supporters in the legislature are howling about the bill. According to the News & Observer’s Under the Dome blog, Rep. Pryor Gibson, Democrat from Anson County, objects to the notion of lifting caps because he hasn’t heard yet what oil companies think about the idea. Take a wild guess, Pryor.

Rep. Pat McElraft, a Republican from Emerald Isle, wants to make sure the state doesn’t do anything that would chase away offshore exploration. McElraft’s reason? “Because we won't have tourists coming in either if we have $8 a gallon gas." It’s true, of course, that $8 gas would wreck tourism, but, as has been endlessly explained in the press, there’s no connection between raised oil prices and drilling off the N.C. coast. As noted by N.C. blogger S.C. Harrison  on the BlueNC site, “OK, for the fourteenth fricking time: Offshore drilling operations off the coast of our state, even with multiple platforms producing, would (at best) shave a few pennies off the price at the pump, and likely not even that much. Whatever is produced would be sold on the (global) market, increasing that total volume by a fraction of a percent, [and that’s only] if no other production drops at any of the thousands of other production sites worldwide.”

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