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Originally published November 16, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 16, 2005 at 12:22 AM

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BP oil execs get an earful in D.C.

The company has enlisted Republicans from other states to champion its efforts to ease limits on oil tankers here. Lawmakers from Washington aren't happy.

Seattle Times Washington bureau

BP oil-company executives went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to plead their case with the state delegation for repealing the law that protects Puget Sound from oil spills by limiting tanker traffic.

They got a frosty reception.

Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, and delegation staffers took them to task for trying to upend 1977 legislation by quietly enlisting Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Republicans from other states to champion their cause.

BP would like more oil tankers to be allowed to dock at its Cherry Point refinery in Bellingham.

But the so-called Magnuson amendment, named after the law's author, the state's late U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson, restricts any increase in oil-tanker capacity in Puget Sound unless it serves Washington state's energy needs.

Internal e-mails from BP executives and one of its lawyers, given to The Seattle Times, indicate that BP has been working closely with Stevens to undo the tanker rule.

Early last month BP's attempts to get the House to change the Magnuson amendment were blocked by Dicks; Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island; and Dave Reichert, R-Auburn.

But last week, Stevens announced he was introducing a bill to repeal the amendment. He surprised the delegation but apparently not BP.

"Sen. Stevens may take another run at Magnuson on the Senate floor, perhaps within days," said an e-mail written by BP spokesman Bill Kidd on Oct. 19. Kidd added, "I have asked Rick Cocker to prepare an op-ed piece for us in the event it might be useful; we will check with Stevens before launching anything proactively."

Cocker is head of Cocker Fennessy, a large public-relations firm in Seattle.

In response, one of BP's lawyers wrote that he hoped the company would have a better strategy in the Senate than it had in the House.

"The next effort has to learn from the lessons of the last try," said Matthew Cohen. He suggested a narrow amendment to existing legislation, and other minor changes that "would curb a lot of the paranoia," and eliminate risk of litigation from the environmental group Ocean Advocates.

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Environmental group

Ocean Advocates won a federal lawsuit in 2004, after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the second dock BP had built at Cherry Point in 2001 may have violated the law; it was constructed without a proper permit and environmental review by the Army Corps of Engineers.

BP's lawyer also warned his clients to "brief Norm Dicks [a former Magnuson aide], so that he does not use his considerable power to kill the measure in the House."

Dicks said he told the BP representatives that he will defend the Magnuson amendment. He has concerns about the cumulative effects of more tanker traffic in Puget Sound and thinks the company built the second dock to increase production, which would violate the intent of the amendment.

"I'm sure that's what they'd like to do," he said.

Stevens has said previously that repealing the Magnuson amendment would provide more energy to Northwest states.

Last week, BP's president, Ross Pillari, testified in the Senate that unless the law changed, BP might have to cut production by 10 percent. If restrictions were lifted, he said, Cherry Point might expand production.

Previously, BP has said it has no plans to increase capacity.

BP also met with Reichert's chief of staff, Mike Shields. Afterward, Shields said that Reichert will work with his Democratic colleagues to defeat the bill. "He will go to the GOP leadership again if necessary" to stop it, Shields said.

The issue may have ramifications for next year's Senate race. Sen. Maria Cantwell, up for re-election, vociferously opposes Stevens' bill. Some Republicans worry that his efforts are handing Cantwell a highly visible platform.

Change opposed

GOP Senate candidate Mike McGavick, who was in D.C. Tuesday meeting with GOP leaders and fundraisers, said he told Stevens that he also opposes changing the law.

"Sen. Stevens has made this unfortunate proposal. I decided to go and see him to tell him my concerns," McGavick said. "I told him that in our part of the world we view it as a nonstarter."

The Bellingham-area dock could also be a prime location for refining and transporting oil from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if it is opened up for drilling, BP spokesman Kidd said.

Stevens has been pushing for ANWR drilling for 25 years; BP is the second-highest contributor to his political campaigns since 1989, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Alicia Mundy: 202-662-7457 or amundy@seattletimes.com

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