Offshore Drilling Could Torpedo Climate Bill

>Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman will unveil their beleaguered climate bill this afternoon, though they've lost a good deal of momentum thanks to the bill's many stops and starts. Lindsey Graham, the coy center of most Senate drama these days, is officially out, but the bill will include incentives for expanded offshore drilling. As oil continues to flow unchecked into the Gulf of Mexico, they may doom the bill.

A summary that leaked yesterday includes a cursory nod to the recent disaster but also proposes a revenue-sharing system that would grant states 37.5 percent of royalties from new offshore rigs. For many states, this kind of revenue would be hard to turn down. Senators Mary Landrieu and Mark Begich, of Louisiana and Alaska respectively, have emphasized that their votes for a climate bill depend not just on expanded drilling but on hefty revenue-sharing, so they should be satisfied.

In a gesture to New Jersey's Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, who worry that drilling off the coast of Virginia could harm New Jersey's beaches, the Kerry/Lieberman bill will mandate studies on how drilling off the coast of one state could affect others. At-risk states will then have the ability to veto drilling projects. All coastal states will also be able to nix drilling up to 75 miles from their shores.

Still, Menendez, Lautenberg, and Florida's Bill Nelson, a staunch opponent of offshore drilling, are unlikely to sign up. With votes from anti-drilling Democrats even more unlikely than they were before the spill, Kerry and Lieberman will need some moderate Republicans on board. Graham will most likely vote for the bill, though he's made a big stink about how he won't be marketing it to his fellow Republicans. Olympia Snowe and Scott Brown could be persuaded to back it, while Susan Collins, whose own climate bill has been overshadowed by the endless drama of the Kerry-Lieberman bill, would need quite a bit of coaxing.

There's also the possibility the bill won't even make it to the floor before midterm elections. Much depends on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Over at Grist, David Roberts speculates that Reid will push the bill forward on one condition:

Public opinion has to keep moving and getting louder. There has to be a sense of urgency behind passing a bill. That's always been the missing ingredient... But for public opinion to crystallize and become a serious force, it must be echoed, amplified, and directed by the only politician most Americans still trust: Barack Obama. I've said this before and it remains true: The only way this thing gets done is if Obama lays himself on the line for it.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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