The BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast adds an unexpected wrinkle to the climate bill drama. Senators weigh in on next steps while Schwarzenegger withdraws offshore drilling support.
The broad energy and climate bill that Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have crafted contains measures to promote wider offshore drilling. Offshore drilling incentives are considered critical by many to win enough votes to pass such legislation in the U.S. Senate by garnering enough support from senators such as Mary Landrieu (D-LA).
While environmentalists and some coastal state Democrats are mounting new attacks on offshore drilling in the wake of the Gulf accident, the jury is out whether the climate bill will move forward.
The trouble unfolding in the Gulf comes at a time when climate legislation is in deep water because of the rapid departure of Graham from negotiations with Kerry and Lieberman. The trio originally planned to release their bill capping greenhouse gas emissions on April 26, with oil companies standing at their side, but abruptly canceled plans after Graham became angry about the movement of immigration to the top of the Capitol Hill agenda.
Senate minority whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) predicted Tuesday that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill would put broad energy and climate legislation on hold while the accident is investigated.
Referring to the drilling provisions, Kyl said:
At least temporarily, this [the spill]has probably knocked one of the legs of the stool off to the side.
Meanwhile, Lieberman is defending inclusion of offshore drilling provisions in the climate and energy measure he is crafting, but a senior Democrat acknowledged that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has highlighted differences among lawmakers.
Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) suggested the spill has weakened the hand of drilling advocates:
For the drill-baby-drill crowd, the notion was, man, if we could just drill in ANWR and offshore, we wouldn’t be so dependent on foreign oil and wouldn’t have to waste our time with all these renewable investments…I think there is now a serious question in people’s minds as to whether or not offshore drilling is the kind of investment that is completely easy and fault-free. There is some skepticism about that approach.
The Hill reports that on Tuesday, Lieberman stated that pushing the climate bill without Sen. Graham is ‘an open question.’ Lieberman, in a short interview, made clear that he and Kerry are still hopeful that Graham will back the climate and energy bill push.
We are talking to him all the time. . . . He is still supportive of the bill, but because of all the political crosscurrents about immigration reform, he is not yet, as I understand it, prepared to join us in launching it.
Meanwhile, two senior Republicans on Tuesday distanced themselves from the controversial “drill, baby, drill” phrase first used by Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and repeated prominently by 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
In California, AP News reports that Governor Schwarzenegger says he will find another way to help close the state’s $20 billion budget deficit after the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused him to withdraw his support for a plan to expand oil drilling off the California coast around Santa Barbara.
If I have a choice to make up $100 million and what I see in Gulf of Mexico, I’d rather find a way to make up that $100 million.
Mackinnon is Editor & Publisher of Biomass Intel, a law and policy resource for sustainable energy, and co-author of Camelina Aviation Biofuels: Market Opportunity and Renewable Energy Report.