WASHINGTON – WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is making more money available to the Coast Guard to pay for its response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The bill that now goes to President Barack Obama removes the $100 million limit that the Coast Guard can spend on the spill from a government trust fund used to pay cleanup costs. The Coast Guard would run out of money to fight the spill next week if the spending cap is not lifted, said Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House transportation committee.
Lawmakers said the federal government will require BP to reimburse the Coast Guard's expenses, but the service needs congressional authority to spend more than $100 million on the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
"While these funds will allow us to continue mounting an all-hands-on-deck, relentless response, our commitment to holding BP accountable for all costs associated with this disaster — both to the federal government and to all affected individuals and businesses suffering losses as a result of this event — has not wavered," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement.
The House voted 410-0 on Thursday to lift the spending cap. The Senate passed the bill on a voice vote Wednesday.
The trust fund, which has about $1.6 billion, is financed by a tax of 8 cents per barrel on oil produced by or imported into the U.S. The House passed a bill last month to increase the tax to 34 cents a barrel. The Senate is considering a bill to increase the tax to 41 cents a barrel.
Rep. John Mica of Florida, the top Republican on the transportation committee, said he supports making the money available to the Coast Guard but wants more assurances that BP will repay the government.
The Coast Guard has so far sent BP two bills. BP paid a $1.8 million bill last week, a few days after receiving it. The Obama administration sent BP a $69 million bill last week. By law, BP has 30 days to pay, said Craig Bennett, director of the Coast Guard's National Pollution Funds Center.
"I have no doubt that BP is going to pay the $69 million," Bennett said.
BP officials have said they will pay all legitimate claims.
Associated Press writer Eileen Sullivan contributed to this report.