Reid’s plan for an energy/climate bill

REID’S PLAN FOR AN ENERGY/CLIMATE BILL…. The Kerry/Lieberman energy/climate bill, known as the American Power Act, should be a no-brainer, especially in light of the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf and the need for alternative energies growing more obvious. But Republican demands for more coastal drilling put the legislation at risk, especially since the GOP will refuse to give the bill an up-or-down vote.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is now moving forward with a related plan, calling on relevant committee chairs to have their own comprehensive legislation ready by July 4. The estimable David Dayen notes correspondence Reid sent today to the relevant committees:

“As you know, I hope to bring comprehensive clean energy legislation before the full Senate later this summer. As your Committee works to develop that legislation, I think it is extremely important that you each examine what could be included in a comprehensive energy bill that would address the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The economic, social and environmental devastation occurring there now due to the oil pollution is unprecedented. I believe it is important that your Committee see what can be done to address both the existing situation and to reduce the risks of such a catastrophe happening again.

“Among the actions I think we need to explore are ensuring that the oil companies’ are held accountable for their actions and the damages caused by their operations. This may require adjusting current law to more accurately assess and address the damages caused by failures, to ensure the swift and fair compensation of people and communities for their oil pollution related losses, and to update relevant criminal and civil penalty structures. In addition, we must make sure that effective federal safety standards are in place and effectively enforced and that we are better equipped to avert, detect and adequately respond to disastrous failures in the future.”

Reid’s letter today suggests that the Senate bill will not simply be about a new energy framework, but will also relate directly to responding to the oil spill disaster. That means efforts to improve oversight of offshore drilling will be part of the legislation, as will fixing the liability cap on energy companies.

As David explained, “basically everything to do with the tragedy in the Gulf” will “become part of the climate bill.”

And that necessarily would position opponents of the legislation as voting against the response to the disaster and in support of the oil industry’s demands (in an election year, no less).

The American Power Act, meanwhile, is “still left to be addressed,” which suggests the leadership doesn’t see 60 votes materializing for the bill. How a new Senate bill will differ remains to be seen.

Update: This post was originally predicated on the idea that Reid intended to add spill-related provisions to the Kerry/Lieberman bill. That was incorrect — Reid envisions a new reform package — so this piece was re-written to reflect the actual legislative strategy.