Offshore drilling likely won’t make it into climate bill

Along with subsidies for nuclear power, expanded offshore drilling was supposed to be one of the key provisions to win the support of Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and conservative Democrats like Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) for comprehensive climate legislation. Developments over the past few weeks, however, have changed the landscape– the natural landscape and the political landscape. Graham, frustrated that the Democratic leadership was looking to prioritize immigration reform over climate legislation, withdrew his support for the climate bill in protest just before it was slated for release on April 26. There was also the Gulf Coast offshore rig explosion and massive oil spill that is now putting hundreds of miles of American coastline at risk.

The result of the latter has been bipartisan (if not quite across-the-spectrum) political backlash against offshore drilling, culminating in a press conference today where three Democratic senators urged their leadership not to include any new drilling in the bill — and one of them promised a filibuster if it is included.

Kate Sheppard reports:

“Any proposal for offshore drilling is dead on arrival,” said Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat and one of the most vocal opponents of plans to expand drilling. “If offshore drilling is a part of it, this legislation is not going anywhere.”

“If I have to do a filibuster … I will do so,” said Nelson.

If even a handful of Democrats refuse to support a climate bill with offshore drilling, it’s hard to imagine any provision along those lines will be included. The question is whether oil-state senators like Landrieu will continue to insist on expanded drilling now that the politics of the issue have shifted so dramatically.

But while these developments could put Democrats in a tight spot — they come barely a month after President Obama proposed to open huge stretches of coastline to new drilling — Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) expressed hope at today’s press conference that the oil spill could help mobilize support for climate legislation:

Menendez said Tuesday that the spill should be an impetus for the Senate to act on climate and energy, rather than [as] a barrier. “I would like to think that instead of hurting climate change, the spill has actually thrust into light why we in fact are demanding an end to dependence on fossil fuels, demanding an end to polluting our planet,” said Menendez.

“If anything this spill should act as a rallying cry for comprehensive climate and energy legislation,” he continued. “Instead of expanding drilling and doubling down on 19th century fuels, we should be investing in a new 21st century green economy.”

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Aaron Wiener

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