Tipping the cap?
What are we in North Carolina taking away from the Deepwater Horizon explosion in April that has introduced as many as 60,000 barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico?
Obviously none of us wants the same type of disaster to occur on our shores, but beyond that public opinion diffuses into distinct camps: those who seek through legislation to discourage corporations from jeopardizing our shorelines — and those who depend on it for livelihood — while engaging in incredibly profitable activities there, and “drill baby drill.”
The question is, for the time being, fairly moot — North Carolina has been protective of its coastline when it comes to drilling and exploration, and experts believe that the trove beneath our waters is more likely natural gas than oil. This is not to say that the spill in the gulf could not make its way to our shores — it possibly could if it rounds Florida and catches on to the Gulf Stream, which runs 50 miles or so off our coast.
We agree with Harrison’s position on this problem that does not yet exist. but even more, we admire that she did not let the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico go to waste.
At any rate, most of the NC coastline falls under a drilling and exploration moratorium that expires in 2012, and it could be another decade before rigs could be constructed. So HB 2014, a state bill that will remove the cap for damages oil companies will pay in the event of a spill or leak, is largely ceremonial — and political.
The bill, proposed by Greensboro’s Rep. Pricey Harrison and which has already passed the NC House Environment and Natural Resources Committee, posits that the current $75 million cap on damages an oil company would have to pay in the event of a disaster be lifted.
“I would just postulate that $75 million wouldn’t cover damages to one-third of one county on our coast in terms of if what happened in the gulf happens here,” Harrison said after the bill passed committee.
Philosophically, we agree. But this is also an election year, one in which Harrison faces competition in upstart Republican challenger Jon Hardister. Harrison’s bill forces Hardister to take a position. Hardister addresses the bill on his blog, saying, “If we erase this cap, which is what this bill would do, there would likely be unintended consequences that could harm existing business, raise gas prices, hurt the economy, and hurt our citizens.” He suggested raising the cap, which was instilled 20 years ago, to keep up with inflation, while virtually ignoring the intentional consequences of the bill, which would be to avoid leaving the taxpayers on the hook for cleaning up a billion-dollar corporation’s mistake.
We agree with Harrison’s position on this problem that does not yet exist. But even more, we admire that she did not let the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico go to waste.
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