Hutchison “delighted” with passage of amended launch indemnification act

Just hours before her final term in the Senate ended, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) congratulated the House for passing the amended version of HR 6586 that includes an extension of commercial launch indemnification as well as additional provisions extending NASA’s INKSNA waiver and a resolution calling for balanced development of both government and commercial crew transportation systems.

“This action by Congress reaffirms the intent of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, which reflected a hard-fought Congressional and Administration consensus for the future of NASA in the post-shuttle era,” she said in a statement released Thursday morning by the Senate Commerce Committee, where she had served as its ranking member. “I am delighted that this will be one of my final acts as a U.S. Senator and is in cooperation with my good friend and colleague, Senator Bill Nelson.”

The statement provides a clue why the Senate-amended version only extends launch indemnification for one year, instead of two in the original version the House passed in November. The shorter extension will keep the current system in place “while the Federal Aviation Administration conducts a review of the underlying formula for calculating probable levels of loss.” That’s a reference to a critique last year by the Government Accountability Office, which argued that the FAA should use more sophisticated models for determining the third-party maximum probable loss (MPL) that launch providers must be financially responsible for, with the government indemnifying any losses above the MPL level up to approximately $2.7 billion.

The statement also indicated that Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who will again chair the committee’s space subcommittee in the new Congress, will be working with Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) as the subcommittee’s ranking member. “I am grateful to, and will miss, Sen. Hutchison, and I look forward to working with Sen. Boozman as we lead the space subcommittee in 2013,” Nelson said in the statement. Boozman was the ranking member of the space subcommittee in the previous Congress, but was often overshadowed by Hutchison, ranking member of the full commerce committee.

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