US Senate panel oks money to address Gulf oil spill

WASHINGTON Thu May 13, 2010 6:08pm EDT

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WASHINGTON May 13 (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate committee approved on Thursday $68 million to speed assistance to people affected by the massive Gulf oil spill, part of a request by the Obama administration to address the crisis.

The money includes grants to help state and local governments grappling with the spill's effects, as well as funds for seafood inspection and responding to economic impacts on fishermen and businesses that depend on them.

The money was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee as part of a spending bill for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It now goes to the full Senate for expected approval. The House of Representatives will also have to approve any aid before it can be spent.

The biggest single chunk -- $29 million -- would go to the Department of the Interior for increased inspections of offshore rigs and platforms on the outer continental shelf, as well environmental studies in the Gulf of Mexico and on lands and waters impacted by the spill.

There was also $10 million for the Justice Department to help with civil and criminal enforcement of oil pollution and clean water laws.

The Obama administration this week asked for $118 million to address the Gulf spill, but additional amounts can still be added on the Senate floor, Senate aides said. Some things in Obama's request -- such as lifting a cap on liability damages -- were not in the Senate Appropriations Committee's jurisdiction.

Senator Frank Lautenberg said he intended to propose an amendment on the Senate floor that the companies involved in the spill would have to repay the government for whatever it spends.

"These companies should pay the bill," he said. "I'm not saying don't spend it. We have to help them recover. But we have to make sure those who created the problem pay for it."

(Editing by Sandra Maler)

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