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DC Hill Update 5/4/10 - Climate bill tensions ease as drilling disaster ravages the Gulf Coast

4
May

DC Hill Update 5/4/10 - Climate bill tensions ease as drilling disaster ravages the Gulf Coast

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After a week of friction amongst Democratic leadership, the legislative calendar is coming into focus. The Senate is on the verge of passing Wall street reform, which if done quickly will leave space for a comprehensive energy and climate bill to be considered this spring. Co-sponsors of the draft legislation have yet to set out a new timeline for the bill's release, but tensions have eased considerably since the initial disagreements began last weekend. As the Senate moves forward, a massive offshore oil drilling disaster in the Gulf continues to dominate the news, surfacing ongoing disagreement about the need for and wisdom of expanded offshore oil drilling. 1Sky and many allied groups nationwide oppose offshore oil drilling and many are moving towards collaborative rapid response mode in urging Obama to call a moratorium on offshore oil drilling.

Oil spills in the Gulf, while Cape Wind project approved off of Cape Cod

BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig caught fire and sank over a week ago, and is now leaking 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico -- leaving 8.9 million gallons of oil floating on the Gulf. It just surpassed the Exxon Valdez as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. At the end of last week the oil began to reach land near New Orleans, threatening public health and fragile ecosystems along the coast. On Sunday, President Obama traveled to New Orleans to see the damage and the administration is closely monitoring the situation while facing increased criticism for the announcement just a month ago aimed at expanding offshore drilling. In the wake of the spill, a number of crucial players in climate politics have spoken out about the devastating spill and their stance on offshore drilling. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) said that any climate bill that expands offshore drilling is "dead on arrival." Governor Charlie Crist (I-Florida), who is running for the Senate in a key race this fall, suggested over the weekend that in light of the spill, offshore drilling "has got to tabled for sure.". (Crist also made big news last week when he announced he would be running in the Senate race as an independent rather than as a Republican in a tough primary race.) Senator Lindsey Graham (R) said recently that he still supports expanding offshore drilling even as he sees the destructive nature of the huge spill. The Obama Administration does not appear to be planning to scale back drilling operations in the Gulf, but is emphasizing the importance of improved safety mechanisms on drilling rigs. As news spread that the environmental impact of oil spill would be worse than originally anticipated last week, the Obama Administration announced new support for the Cape Wind offshore wind project that has been struggling to gain approval for nearly ten years. This allowed for a very telling side-by-side comparison of two markedly different offshore energy sources.

See multiple blogs on the oil spill from 1Sky and allied groups like the Gulf Restoration Network and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Climate bill tensions easing

The prospects for a climate and energy bill seemed uncertain at the beginning of last week after Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) came out of a Tuesday meeting without resolving the impasse on climate and immigration that began over a week ago when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) suggested the Senate might take up immigration reform ahead of climate legislation. On Wednesday, the path for a climate bill seemed to open once again, as President Obama indicated that he would throw his support behind passing a climate bill this year while immigration waits until later in the year. Reid also announced definitively on Wednesday that the Senate would move forward on comprehensive climate and energy legislation before taking up immigration. This announcement came despite the recent surge of support for immigration reform (including nationwide marches around the country over the weekend) which has surfaced in the aftermath of Arizona's passage of an especially draconian immigration law. Reid faces a tough reelection bid in Nevada this November and is counting on the support of a large Hispanic population demanding immigration reform.

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman sent their bill to the Environmental Protection Agency for the required 6 week analysis last Wednesday in another signal that they are moving forward despite the recent setback. At this rate, the bill could come to the floor in June.

A number of groups, including many climate advocacy groups, military officers, and the business group CERES, pushed hard last week on Senator Reid and President Obama to keep the climate bill alive so it can be brought to the Senate floor this year. Read more here.

In an interview last week, Graham was cautiously optimistic about the chances of passing a comprehensive climate bill this year while again stating that he will not rejoin negotiations until he has affirmation from Reid that immigration reform is completely off the table for this year.

Meanwhile, fans of the CLEAR Act, a cap and dividend bill by Senators Cantwell and Collins, continue to urge leadership to take that up instead of continuing to wait for Kerry-Graham-Lieberman to emerge. And others are discussing Senator Lugar’s recent energy proposal.

On Monday, fifteen 1Sky Regional Coordinators from all over the country were on Capitol Hill meeting with congressional staffers about protecting the Clean Air Act and passing strong comprehensive climate and energy legislation this year.

Clean Air Act Update

Our defense campaign against legislative attacks on the Clean Air Act enjoyed a small victory this week, with Rep. Henry "Hank" Johnson (D-GA) removing his support for Rep. Rahall's Dirty Air Act after facing criticism from climate advocacy groups, including Georgia 1Sky Allies like The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).

Financial reform

After filibustering for three days, Republicans finally agreed to open debate on a financial regulatory reform bill that would provide new consumer protections and reign in the abuses on Wall Street. Hundreds of amendments are expected be offered during the floor debate, which is should last at least a week or longer. President Obama still hopes to sign the bill into law "very soon," which will clear up time on the Senate's calendar to take up comprehensive climate and energy reform later this spring.


Prepared by Julie Erickson and Jason Kowalski from the 1Sky Policy team. Please direct questions or comments to jason@1sky.org.

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