Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said after touring the oil-smeared Louisiana coast Friday that federal officials appear to be making progress in curtailing the huge leak from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
But the Maryland Democrat urged Obama administration officials to challenge BP more, and he vowed to push legislation in the Senate to hold the energy company liable for all damages caused to coastal communities as well as the cleanup costs
"It is just beyond description," Cardin said by telephone of the devastation he and other senators saw in a helicopter flyover as well as a boat tour of the waters near Queen Bess Island and Grand Isle. He was joined by Democratic Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican.
Cardin said his opposition to drilling for oil off the Atlantic coast was reinforced after seeing how the spill had basically shut down Grand Isle, a small coastal town where the population balloons in summer with vacationers. He likened it to Maryland's Ocean City. The senator said the delegation saw bird nesting areas coated with oil, beaches closed and booms put out to contain the slick that were "covered with oil."
After meeting with federal officials, Cardin said, "I think the government feels that they're making progress." But he added that he thinks officials have to "take much more direct control and challenge BP."
Cardin, chairman of the Environment and Public Works water and wildlife subcommittee, said he plans to hold hearings in July on the extent of damage caused by the rig blowout. He said he doesn't trust BP after experts contended that far more oil is being discharged into the Gulf of Mexico than the company has suggested, and predicted that cleanup could take years.
Cardin, Mikulski and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat who has visited the Gulf twice, plan to hold a news conference Monday at the National Aquarium in Baltimore to discuss what they have seen and heard.