The spill, the Congress, and the climate bill

THE SPILL, THE CONGRESS, AND THE CLIMATE BILL…. Reason suggests the BP oil spill in the Gulf should make the climate/energy bill pending in the Senate more likely to pass. What could prove the need for an overhaul of our existing energy policies more than this disaster?

If only it were that easy. The legislation was predicated on something of a grand bargain — the left would get cap-and-trade and investment in renewables; the right would get nuclear plants and offshore drilling. But in the wake of the catastrophe in the Gulf, there is no deal. Key Dems now insist drilling be taken off the table, while Republicans and Democratic industry allies (Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, for example) now insist they won’t even consider a bill unless it includes plenty of drilling.

And so the oil disaster 50 miles from the U.S. shore — the one that should make the climate/energy bill a no-brainer — has actually made progress less likely.

[Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson] is perhaps the most outspoken of a group of anti-drilling Democrats, that also includes New Jersey Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez. They were none-too-pleased when President Obama greenlighted oil exploration — and, potentially, full scale drilling — along vast swaths of the Outer Continental Shelf in order to shore up support from pro-drilling Democrats. But the BP spill drove them into full revolt.

That wouldn’t be a problem at all if other senators, and industry players, viewed the Gulf catastrophe as oil’s Waterloo. But if anything, the opposite has happened. The bill’s authors see offshore drilling as one of the keys to bringing oil-patch Democrats and Republicans into the fold on climate and energy legislation — and they are unwilling to allow the industry coalition they put together to be fractured by the backlash. At the same time pro-drilling senators have seemingly doubled down.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) — one of the principal authors of yet-to-be-unveiled legislation told reporters Tuesday that the disaster in the Gulf has not moved him or the bill’s other sponsors to remove drilling provisions.

For his part, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters yesterday the still-ongoing BP spill may yet give some momentum to the legislation. Asked if the disaster endangers the bill, Reid said, “I think quite to the contrary. I think it should spur it on…. I think, rather than slow us up, I think it should expedite our doing energy legislation.”

It certainly should, but at this point, there are nowhere near 59 other senators who agree.

Any chance proponents could use reconciliation on this, so the Senate could consider it on a straight up-or-down vote? David Roberts looked into this last week, and concluded that this isn’t really an option. If Dems can’t assemble the support to overcome yet another Republican filibuster, the GOP won’t let the bill come up for a vote, even if a majority of the Senate approves.