A week ago, Sen. John Kerry felt he had to convince supporters that his work at attempting to rescue a faltering energy and climate bill still mattered. But a massive oil slick that threatens to befoul much of coastal Louisiana may have given the Massachusetts Democrat’s legislation new appeal and currency.
Kerry emailed supporters last Wednesday, including those who supported his failed 2004 White House bid, urging them not to give up hope for Senate passage of energy and climate legislation despite the fact it’s gone nowhere for the better part of a year.
“Just a quick check-in as I know you’ve been reading and hearing a lot about the alleged ‘death’ of comprehensive climate and energy legislation,” Kerry wrote. “Feels like it’s practically a rite of passage for important legislation — how many times was health care reform declared ‘dead’ before it passed?”
The Senate has sat on legislation to enact a national cap-and-trade system to contain greenhouse gases ever since it came over after the House passed it last summer. Kerry took a leadership role in getting it through the Senate, working with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), but those talks have not produced a bill that could attract the GOP support Kerry acknowledges such legislation would require.
A climate bill in the Senate would need at least some GOP backing in order to overcome an expected filibuster of the legislation. Moreover, some coal-state Democrats, notably Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, oppose the cap-and-trade legislation.
But the 25,000 barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico each day now since a BP offshore oil platform exploded last month could bring the nearly dead Senate climate bill back to life, according to at least one expert.
The energy and climate must include provisions that dramatically cut oil use and provide additional protection from future offshore oil disasters, says Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning Washington think tank.
“The United States needs comprehensive clean energy and climate policies to decrease our dependence on this expensive and unstable commodity. The costs to human life, the economy, and our environment are just too high,” Weiss says.
The notorious 1989 ExxonValdez oil spill affected 1,300 miles of Alaska coastline, while the current crisis could impact more than 9,000 miles of shoreline in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, Weiss notes.
“There is no question that the cleanup will cost billions of dollars and many in the tourist and fishing industries will likely lose their jobs,” he says.
Weiss says his think tank remains solidly against offshore drilling, even as President Obama has called for a widening of such drilling after an investigation of the BP spill is complete.
“The fact is that our dependence on oil is not sustainable,” he says. “We cannot produce enough oil domestically to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”
On the other side of the spectrum, however, the Republican with whom Kerry had come closest in striking a deal on the climate bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, by contrast applauded Obama’s announcement — made before the BP spill — that he would make more territory offshore available for oil and gas extraction.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.