Even the weak energy bill isn’t a sure-thing

EVEN THE WEAK ENERGY BILL ISN’T A SURE-THING…. Late last week, we received genuinely awful news out of the Senate — Democratic leaders, unable to put together an energy package that could overcome Republican obstructionism, were throwing in the towel. Instead of a meaningful, ambitious bill, the Senate would take up a scaled-back, watered-down, weakened package that wouldn’t even try to address global warming and carbon emissions.

It was cold comfort, but at least the bill would have a few worthwhile provisions, including new oil company regulations and Home Star (the program formally known as Cash for Caulkers). The legislation would be a shell of its former self, but the Senate has to pass something, no matter how narrow, and if this is the best we can do in our broken legislative system, it’s the best we can do.

But it’s worth remembering that the bill likely to be unveiled today — the one that’s been stripped of its most important elements, just to ensure its passage — might fail, too.

A Senate Democratic oil spill response and energy plan — scaled back to help ensure passage — may still hit rough waters on the floor this week.

The evolving package of new offshore rig safety rules and other updates to shore up federal oversight and corporate responsibility in preventing and responding to major oil spills may include provisions Republicans and pro-drilling Democrats argue could hurt small- and mid-sized independent companies that drill offshore.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we saw this debate start to unfold in May with the “Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act.” Under existing law, there’s a $75 million liability cap for oil spills. Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) proposed increasing it to $10 billion, but Republicans refused. The liability issue never really went away, though, and is drawing fire all over again.

The leadership, at least for now, still sounds optimistic.

Reid has confidently predicted that the package would get 60 votes, noting that each of the four sections has bipartisan support.

The package also includes an oil-spill response bill approved with bipartisan support in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee late last month. It will also have bills either approved last week by the Senate Commerce Committee or which its members will take up likely Tuesday or Wednesday in a less formal gathering off the Senate floor.

This includes the so-called SHORE Act requiring the Interior Secretary to consult with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before taking action related to offshore oil and gas development and giving NOAA unprecedented authority in the permitting process.

A second bill would expand the remedies and damages available for parties in maritime personal injury and wrongful death claims.