By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers in the House of Representatives unveiled a bill on Wednesday similar to an effort in the Senate that would force BP Plc to pay hefty damages from the Gulf oil spill, as both the White House and Congressional leadship signaled support.
The House bill, like legislation introduced by Democratic Senators earlier this week, would raise the maximum amount of money BP could be required to dole out for economic losses caused by the spill to $10 billion.
With the Gulf oil spill still flowing unchecked from a ruptured well, BP and the other companies involved in the accident face mounting costs and tighter government regulation.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on Wednesday that he backed the Senate proposal, but did not know when the bill would be brought up for a vote.
Separately, the White House said on Wednesday it also supports making BP shoulder more of the accident's financial burden.
"We would be in favor of significantly lifting that cap," White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs told a news briefing. "BP's going to get a bill for the recovery, the cleanup and the damages caused."
Although energy companies are responsible for all cleanup costs related to oil spills, current U.S. law limits their liability for lost business and local tax revenues to $75 million.
The legislation could allow economic liability claims to be retroactive, "ensuring that BP is on the hook for the economic damages resulting from the Gulf Coast spill," the bill's sponsors said.
"Our bill is clear: the buck stops with oil companies; it shouldn't spill over to taxpayers," said Rush Holt, a Democrat from New Jersey.
In addition to raising the liability cap, the House bill would also eliminate the $1 billion per incident limit on claims against the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. The fund, authorized for use in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez spill, is expected to hold $1.6 billion by the end of fiscal year 2010.
(Editing by David Gregorio)