On September 8, I reported on the latest effort in Congress to enable victims of the Deepwater Horizon disaster to hold BP and its partners accountable in court. Key Democratic and Republican Senators are attempting to compromise with shipping interests and their Senate champions, who oppose any change in maritime liability law, and end the unfair discrimination in federal law faced by the BP rig victims’ survivors. If the 11 workers killed on the rig had instead been working on land, or even hovering on a helicopter near the rig, their survivors would not have their 7th Amendment rights so unfairly limited by decades-old laws enacted before anyone dreamed of a floating oil rig. But old habits die hard, and shipping interests continue to enjoy economic and political advantages that apparently override, in the halls of the Senate, Constitutional consistency and American principles of equal legal treatment for all. Sen. Rockefeller cut more provisions from his bill. S. 3755, in an effort to mollify the opposition, and then tried to move the bill swiftly through the Senate, but numerous Senators have objected. The week ended with no action. It has now been 79 days since the House passed the SPILL Act by voice vote of both parties, with no response by the Senate.
To date, there hasn’t been a single minute of open debate in the Senate on any bill. All of the maneuvering and wrangling is being done behind closed doors, in an effort to quickly pass something that helps the victims before the Senate recesses for the election. But back-room discussions also empower the shipping interests and enable their Senate champions to avoid public scrutiny. If no deal can be made very soon, the Senate should face its Constitutional responsibility to publicly debate, write, and vote on a bill. The Senate should not adjourn without restoring the 7th Amendment rights of Americans injured or killed on sea-based work platforms. They should be given a chance to prove their case against BP in court. It’s the Constitutional way.