Shelby, Nelson: Oil Spill Could Have Been Prevented

Posted May 9, 2010 at 9:16am

Updated: 10:38 a.m.

Two Gulf Coast Senators on Sunday agreed that the massive oil spill off the Louisiana coast could have been prevented but had slightly different takes on who — beyond BP — should share some of the blame.

But Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said in addition to BP falling down on the job, regulators “were asleep” when the incident occurred on April 20; Nelson also trained his fire at BP but also accused “Big Oil” of buying its way into lax oversight.

“This could have been prevented,” Shelby said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Where were the regulators? Certainly they were asleep. Where was BP?”

Shelby likened the incident to “being on the Los Angeles freeway with no brakes.

“This is going to do irreparable damage … if we don’t stop it,” he said.

Added Nelson: “We are talking about massive economic loss to our tourism, our beaches, our fisheries and very possibly a disruption of our military testing and training in Gulf of Mexico.”

The spill, which first occurred on April 20, is pouring 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf. So far, BP has been unsuccessful in trying to contain the gusher, which is threatening widespread economic and environmental damage.

Nelson, responding to a question about BP’s liability cap of $75 million for damages, suggested the company was not giving him adequate assurances it would do more to cover the impact. BP has said it would respond to all “legitimate” claims for damages.

Nelson also suggested that Congress could and should do more to ensure against such spills, but he said “Big Oil” has fought lawmakers every step of the way.

“You are dog-on right, Candy, that’s exactly right. That’s what a number of us have been calling for, but we can’t get to first base,” Nelson said of Congress conducting greater oversight. “But Big Oil has been flexing muscle, and we could never get anything done.”

Shelby said he hopes it’s not the case that oil companies have bought their way into lax regulations. But Shelby said, “we should never ever drill anywhere if there isn’t a backup of safety, and this could have been prevented in the Gulf.”

Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” said he has dispatched representatives from the Justice Department to the scene to determine whether criminal charges will be filed. But Holder emphasized that the administration’s priority is capping the leak.

“Our primary concern at this point it to see that we keep that oil offshore,” he said.