May 5, 2010 11:21 pm

BP spill raises odds against US climate bill

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The Gulf of Mexico oil spill threatens to become the final nail in the coffin for the Obama administration’s climate change bill, with more Democrats saying they cannot support a bill that allows further offshore drilling.

Expanding drilling was crucial for winning the support of Republicans and moderate Democrats for the bill in the Senate, aimed at cutting the US’s greenhouse gas emissions, but the spill has made an expansion politically unfeasible.

“From a procedural, policy and political standpoint, this spill has made a dead bill even deader,” said Frank Maisano, who follows energy issues at Bracewell Guiliani, a law firm.

Efforts, led by Democrat John Kerry, to draft a bipartisan bill broke down last month when Republican Lindsey Graham walked away from the process.

Support and opposition for the bill tends to fall along regional lines, with senators from industrial and agricultural states being most sceptical.

But in a move to try to add more Republican votes to the “yay” column, Barack Obama in March lifted a 20-year moratorium on offshore drilling.

The move was needed to win over Mr Graham and other Republicans, as well as moderate Democrats, to reach the 60 votes that would stymie any filibuster.

Mr Graham this week said it would be “irresponsible” to halt offshore drilling and said he wanted to expand the search for offshore oil and gas despite the Gulf spill. “We’ve had problems with car design, but we don’t stop driving,” he said.

Even Mary Landrieu, the Democratic senator from Louisiana, the worst-affected state, has reiterated her support for offshore drilling.

“This country uses 20m barrels of oil a day. That’s what we use to run this economy,” she told CNBC. “Offshore drilling has been a significant part of the domestic production.”

But Democrats opposed to offshore drilling have vowed to increase their resistance if a climate change bill that expanded drilling provisions is put forward.

“If I have to do a filibuster . . . I will do so,” said Bill Nelson of Florida, one of three fiercely anti-drilling Democrats pushing for BP to be liable for up to $10bn (€7.5bn, £6.5bn) in damages from the spill.

Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia added: “I will have a hard time ever voting for offshore drilling again. It’s too much unknown.”

At the least, the spill will slow any progress towards formulating a climate change bill, partly because two key Senate committees will next week begin hearings on the BP leak.

Time is not on the side of those pushing for legislation. The bill would need to be passed before the mid-term elections in November, when Democrats are expected to lose seats.

Mr Kerry’s office said the senator had been in “close touch” with Mr Graham and Joe Lieberman, the independent who was working with the pair to craft bipartisan legislation.

Those pushing for a bill say reports of its death are exaggerated. “The obituary for this bill keeps getting written over and over again,” said Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

“[This] is a grim reminder that we need to reduce oil use. That should increase public and political support for a comprehensive clean energy bill.”

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