White House Raises Specter of Misconduct in Oil Spill

Despite BP's vow to pay "all necessary and appropriate clean-up costs" from the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, White House officials are not shying away from suggesting potential misconduct by the company before the accident -- a scenario that would put BP on the hook for all economic damages despite a $75 million cap.

As the White House works with Congress to change a law that caps at $75 million the liability of BP and other companies for economic damages on businesses and the tourism industry, administration officials in recent days have repeatedly highlighted the exceptions to the cap.

"Understand this: There is -- they are fully liable for cleanup and recovery costs per the Oil Pollution Act of 1990," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said this week. "The cap is not in place if somebody is found to be either grossly negligent, conduct willful -- involved in willful misconduct, or in violation of federal regulations. As you know, there's an investigation ongoing as to the cause behind -- behind the spill."

Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer repeated this assertion on the White House blog this week and added: "The bottom line is that the administration will aggressively pursue compensation from BP for any damages from this spill."

It's understandable why the White House is quick to point out exceptions to the cap: The total cost of economic damages from the oil spill is expected to easily exceed the $75 million liability limit and the tide in the Gulf of Mexico moves faster than the tide of Congress.

The Senate is seeking to raise the cap of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to $10 billion. The White House won't endorse a specific dollar limit but Gibbs said Wednesday that the administration "would be in favor of significantly lifting" the current $75 million cap.

It's unclear how much BP will ultimately have to pay but analysts estimate the company is facing billions in containment and clean-up expenses.

"This figure is rising as activity increases," the company said in a written statement. "It is too early to quantify other potential costs and liabilities associated with the incident."

BP says it is spending more than $6 million a day to try and contain the oil slick and just announced $25 million grants for four Gulf Coast states affected by the oil spill. But that doesn't include federal and state spending, such as the deployment of National Guard troops, that BP is responsible for reimbursing.

The Pentagon just approved requests from Louisiana and Mississippi for 6,000 Guard members each, Alabama for 3,000 and Florida for 2,500.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., on Wednesday called for BP to assist the devastated Gulf of Mexico fishing industry. She noted that in 2008, commercial fishermen there generated $659 million in revenue from their harvests and Louisiana seafood industry alone is worth $2.4 billion and employs more than 27,000 jobs.

A Democratic Senate aide working on the new legislation noted a difference between the cleanup costs and "economic damages to small businesses, fisheries -- businesses that are going to suffer through no fault of their own."

"The question is, who's going to make those businesses and families whole again," the aide told FoxNews.com. "In an instance like this, $75 million would be a drop in the bucket compared to what local businesses, fisheries and landowners need to be made whole."

The White House has not ruled out requesting supplemental funds from Congress to help pay for the cleanup now, but a request has not been made.

"We are monitoring the whole situation and what the impact will be on businesses, communities and individuals in the Gulf Coast," Kenneth Baer, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, told FoxNews.com. "But it's too soon to say whether we need to request supplemental funds from Congress."