BP oil spill said to grease the path for US climate bill

03 June 2010 23:44  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Congressional Democrat leaders said on Thursday they will include oil spill liability language in the pending Senate climate change bill to increase the measure’s chances of passage this year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat-Nevada) sent a letter on Thursday to eight Senate committee chairmen with responsibility for energy and environmental matters, urging them to craft language to ensure BP’s full liability for the Gulf oil spill so that provision “can be incorporated into a comprehensive clean energy bill”.

The Senate energy and climate change bill, the “American Power Act”, was introduced in mid-May by Senators John Kerry (Democrat-Massachusetts) and Joe Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut) and includes provisions to cap US emissions of greenhouse gases and force major reductions of those emissions in annual stages to 2050.

The bill was broadly attacked by many in US industry and commerce for imposing large energy cost increases on the nation’s businesses and consumers.  The bill also was attacked by some environmental groups as having inadequate climate goals and for providing giveaways to major carbon sources such as the coal industry and electric utilities.

As the November 2010 congressional elections drew closer, the controversial climate bill was thought to have little chance of Senate approval this year while the nation’s economy struggles to recover and unemployment remains high.

But the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is seen by climate bill advocates as a rallying cause that could revive the emissions reduction legislation.

Senators Kerry and Lieberman said on Thursday that “The disaster in the Gulf has intensified the feeling of urgency on all sides” and that “the time is ripe for action on the American Power Act”.

They hailed the letter sent by Reid to the key committee heads, saying that his suggestions “strengthen our legislation [the climate bill] and make this the year for Senate action”.

Kerry and Lieberman also noted that President Barack Obama has renewed his commitment to the energy and climate change legislation.

In a speech on Wednesday, Obama cited the Gulf spill as further reason to pass the Senate climate bill as a means of reducing US dependence on oil and other fossil fuels and consequently reducing the chances of further environmental disasters.

He conceded that there is not now sufficient support in the Senate for the Kerry-Lieberman climate bill.

“The votes may not be there right now,” Obama said, “but I intend to find them in coming months.  I will work with anyone to get this done - and we will get it done.”

Analysts said that by including language in the climate bill to ensure that BP and other energy companies are made fully liable for oil spills, Democrat leaders in Congress apparently hope that - amid widespread public anger over the spill and animosity to BP - it will be all the more difficult for senators to vote against it.

However, the lone Republican senator in favour of climate change legislation, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has said that the Gulf spill makes passage of an emissions reduction measure even less likely, because the bill included expanded offshore drilling provisions to win Republican support, provisions that now are unlikely to get sufficient Democrat backing.

Reid said in his letter that he wants oil spill liability language crafted and inserted in the climate bill for consideration during early July, suggesting that he wants a vote on the amended climate legislation before Congress begins its month-long recess in August.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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