Oil Spill Threatens an Already Endangered Climate Bill

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The Gulf Coast oil rig that exploded and sank last week is officially leaking oil into the ocean. It initially seemd that BP, who leased the rig, and Transocean, who operated it, had escaped the political complications and financial strain that would accompany an oil spill -- for whatever reason, oil did not seem to be seeping from the well.

Upon further investigation this weekend, the Coast Guard found that the well is leaking 1,000 barrels of oil a day, a spill the Guard has deemed "very serious." The oil sheen surrounding the sunken rig has spread from five to 400 square miles, though Louisiana's coast has not yet been affected. The Coast Guard has deployed four unmanned vehicles 5,000 feet below the water's surface in an attempt to activate a "blow-out preventer" that would help plug the leak.

If response teams can't get the spill under control within the next few days, it may affect climate politics. With Lindsey Graham pulling out of the Senate climate bill and taking potential Republican allies with him, Democratic leaders need every vote they can get. They can't afford to lose coastal Democrats Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, who criticized Obama's recent expansion of offshore drilling and threatened to withhold votes on a climate bill unless it included protections for New Jersey's shoreline. In a statement last week, they called the Louisiana spill a "sober reminder" of the risks of offshore drilling. 

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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