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Climate Bill To Include State Opt-Out For Offshore Drilling

This video from Alabama’s John Wathen, taken at the site of the BP oil disaster, shows the massive scope of the oil slick. “For the first time in my environmental career, I find myself using the word hopeless,” Wathen said, despairing. “We can’t stop this. There’s no way to prevent this from hitting our shorelines… the Gulf appears to be bleeding.”

In the midst of this unfolding nightmare, two Senators will release a “climate change” bill that potentially expands the practice of offshore drilling. But it will include new protections allowing states to cancel out domestic production that could impact their shores.

The energy and climate bill Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) will unveil Wednesday will give states the right to veto offshore oil drilling in a neighboring state, according to sources briefed on the plan.

The two senators, who are going ahead and introducing the bill without their longtime ally GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), have tweaked the bill in a few ways to address concerns raised by the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It requires an Interior Department study to determine which states could be economically and environmentally affected by a spill.

Those affected states would then be able to veto drilling by passing a law. Those states that are able to go ahead with drilling will retain 37 percent of the federal revenue generated by that activity.

Yes, it’s the return of the “opt-out,” last seen during the health care debate as a convenient way for Congress to punt contentious issues back to the states. But I doubt that even this will satisfy opponents of new drilling, who have been emboldened by the BP spill. In two Senate committees today, anti-drilling Senators fulminated about the disaster. And Florida’s Bill Nelson certainly doesn’t sound conciliatory:

Word is climate bill might let rigs in Florida’s no-drill zone. If Sens. Kerry, Lieberman are following me on Twitter: that’s a non starter.

That said, the states may take care of this kind of opt-out opportunity favorably, from the environmentalist perspective. Charlie Crist will enact a special session which could lead to a constitutional amendment from the people on the future of offshore drilling.

“There is no stronger place to put it,” Crist said. “The constitution is the bedrock of our democracy and our governance in Florida. It’s appropriate for the people to have the opportunity to make this call.”

Sixty percent of voters would have to approve such a ban for it to take effect.

The session would also focus on energy alternatives, the governor said.

But anti-drilling advocates seem poised to foreclose all options for new drilling off American shores, and pro-drilling conservatives probably won’t go for this restriction, either. So I cannot believe that this threads the needle and helps passage at all.

Juliet Eilperin has a fuller rendering of the contents of the climate and energy bill from Kerry and Lieberman here. We’ll have a longer analysis once the bill is released tomorrow.

UPDATE: Joe Lieberman says expanded drilling is in the bill:

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said in an interview that the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill raises serious concerns about the safety of offshore energy production. Still, he said the climate bill that is set for rollout at a 1:30 p.m. EDT press conference tomorrow with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) reflects their long-standing plans to grow the domestic supply of oil.

“Yes, there will be a drilling provision in it,” Lieberman said. “We’ve stuck with what we’ve had. We’ve made one slight alteration. And we expect we’ll make some more alterations as this goes on based on what we’ve learned, particularly from [Interior Secretary Ken] Salazar’s 30-day review about what more could be done to protect the safety.”

Meanwhile, Harry Reid isn’t interested on doing much with this bill until after the Memorial Day recess.

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David Dayen

David Dayen