Durbin and senators return from "frightening" tour of oil spill

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
May 24, 2010
By: Bill Lambrecht

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress have mainly watched news clips of the Gulf oil spill and read stories about the unfolding disaster, like the rest of us. Some had the chance to grill BP executives about what happened — and is still happening.

Seven senators — four Democrats and three Republicans — had the opportunity today for an up-close look, flying low over the Gulf in a helicopter and meeting with coastal Louisiana residents on the verge of losing their livelihoods for the foreseeable future. They were accompanied by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

What they say was troubling indeed, said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

“It is frightening to fly over the Gulf of Mexico and see all the oil that we know is still pumping out of the earth and into the ocean,” Durbin said in an interview shortly after he returned. “It is proof positive that we need closer inspection (of oil wells) and better technology.”

Durbin said that the trip affirmed to him the need to remove the $75 million liability cap on companies responsible for offshore spills. He recalled visiting Alaska years after the Valdez oil spill where, he said, native corporations and fishermen fought with Exxon for many years over damages.

“They (BP) need to be held accountable for every penny of this,” Durbin said.

He added in a radio interview: “You see all the oil in the water, big clumps of it, and you know when you talk to people who are fishermen and oystermen and charterboat captains that their businesses are going to be ruined because of this.”

Other senators on the trip: Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; Lisa Murkowski, R-Ak.; David Vitter, R-La.; and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.