By: Susan Ferrechio Chief Congressional CorrespondentMay 12, 2010
As Senate lawmakers grilled executives about the cause of a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Kerry, D-Mass., prepared to unveil a bill to address global warming that would allow expansion of offshore drilling, despite threats of opposition from coastal-state Democrats.
The gravity of the situation in the Gulf, where hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil continue to pour into the ocean, have greatly complicated efforts to pass a comprehensive energy and climate bill this year, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to guarantee the Senate will take up a bill at all before Congress adjourns.
Reid said he plans to "let this bill be seen by everyone that is interested in the subject, and I think the week that we get back after the Memorial Day recess I'll get all the chairmen together and take a look at what we need to do with energy for this year."
A draft of the proposal circulating around Capitol Hill showed Lieberman and Kerry tried to find a compromise between the Democratic opponents to new drilling in the wake of the Gulf disaster and the Republican and Democratic lawmakers who will not vote for an energy bill unless new drilling is included.
Kerry and Lieberman propose expanding offshore drilling but allowing some states the power to opt out of drilling up to 75 miles from their shores and to void any project if they stand to suffer "significant adverse impacts" from an oil spill.
Such a proposal could help win over Democrats such as Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who has threatened to filibuster an energy bill that expands offshore drilling. Nelson declined to comment on the plan Wednesday, telling the Washington Examiner that his staff is researching the proposal.
The Lieberman-Kerry proposal is designed to lure moderate Democrats, such as Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska, who have long sought expanded drilling and profit sharing, and perhaps a few moderate Republicans, such as Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine.
The global warming component of the bill calls for reducing carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020 and allowing states to sell the right to emit carbon dioxide.
"If we leave drilling out, it would be very problematic for me," Begich said. "Anyone who thinks that it's not going to be part of the next 50 years is dreaming. It's part of the mix. I think they tried to craft something that is a balanced approach."
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said the global warming component, more than the drilling provisions, threatens the bill's passage because senators from coal-dependent states will likely refuse to back a bill that is bound to raise energy prices.
"I think many of the other Midwestern senators feel the same way, when you are as reliant on coal at the present time as we are," Nelson said. "Anything that has a trade in it or a carbon tax is bound to raise rates in a place like Nebraska, and I'm very concerned about it."