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Offshore Drilling Fight Continues, Climate Bill Almost Toast

After a late start, environmental groups have united to demand any future climate and energy bill have no expansion of offshore drilling, in the wake of the BP oil disaster. Groups like the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, League of Conservation Voters, Friends of the Earth, and Environment America and dozens more joined on a letter calling any expansion of drilling “unacceptable.” Carl Pope, formerly of the Sierra Club, is out there calling the BP mess America’s Chernobyl. The enviros have found their voice.

Senator (Lindsey) Graham is arguing that after the Challenger disaster America went back into space, so after Deepwater Horizon we should keep opening up new areas to oil drilling.

That analogy is simply wrong. Imagine that the Challenger tragedy, in addition to causing the deaths of astronauts, had put at risk the economic base of a significant part of the United States. Suppose thousands of businesses were ruined, and hundreds of thousands of workers lost their livelihoods. Would we have continued launching Space Shuttles?

This basically puts the climate and energy bill out of the picture. Losing the drilling piece would not only drop whatever Republican support for the bill remains, but also Mary Landrieu. But keeping the drilling piece in loses support from the anti-drilling forces, at least with Bill Nelson and Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez and probably two dozen others. The math doesn’t add up any more for a real climate bill.

And it’s a shame, as the disaster in the Gulf shows the need for more action on renewables and alternative energy projects, which such a bill could provide. As it is, we’ll have to rely on a cautious White House and the EPA to come up with a process to honor the Supreme Court ruling and regulate carbon.

Meanwhile, legislation including a moratorium on new drilling, or an expansion of companies’ liability limits for oil spills (which right now stands at a paltry $75 million), may get added to the financial reform bill, according to Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin. Republicans will have to argue themselves out of a box on that one.

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David Dayen

David Dayen