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Policy update 8/9/2010: Senate goes on recess, punts on spill bill


Policy update 8/9/2010: Senate goes on recess, punts on spill bill

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This week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) canceled a vote on the oil spill response package, punting consideration until after the August recess. Without bipartisan support, the bill did not have the votes necessary for passage. BP's "static kill" finally plugged the deepwater well that has been spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico for over 3 months. Both houses of Congress are out on recess until September 13th. 1Sky’s board reflects on the state of affairs regarding climate action. During the recess, 1Sky will be "shadowing" members of Congress wearing giant "oily hands" to represent the dirty money from oil and coal companies that is holding our energy policy hostage in Congress.

Congressional Recess Timeline

  • 7/31-9/12: House on recess
  • 8/7-9/12: Senate on recess

Senate Punts Oil Spill Bill to September

On Tuesday, Majority Leader Reid announced that the paired-down oil spill response bill did not have the votes necessary for passage before recess. Senate Republicans were universally opposed, and some Democrats like Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) were concerned that eliminating the liability cap entirely would be too harsh on oil companies who can't afford to clean up their spills. Both senators released similar but different versions of oil spill response legislation last week. Landrieu's plan would lift the Obama Administration offshore drilling ban, speed revenue sharing payments to the Gulf Coast, and direct BP's fines towards restoration of the Gulf.

Senator Menendez (D-NJ) has been negotiating with Senators Begich and Landrieu to reach a compromise over the liability language. According to reports, the group is close to a deal that would create an insurance pool for small to medium sized companies to cover up to $5 billion in spill damages, and another larger pool to cover damages up to $15 billion. Oil companies would be held liable for damages larger than $15 billion in the event of a spill.

Senate Democrats planned to use the delays on the oil spill response bill to attack Republicans during the mid-term elections. By blocking a vote on legislation, the majority planned to label the Republicans supporters of Big Oil. With the legislation delayed, the political fallout may cut against both parties. Inaction looks bad for the Democratic Party, showing that they were unwilling to make compromises necessary to get the bill. Meanwhile, Democrats will claim that the Republicans are responsible for blocking the legislation.

August Recess

Both houses of Congress are now on recess until September 13th. Democrats and Republicans hope to focus on the fall 2010 elections by maintaining constant contact with voters without angry confrontations like those seen during last summer's August recess.

1Sky launched August recess actions by delivering "oily hands" to Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Both senators played key roles in blocking the oil spill response legislation and action on climate via the Clean Air Act. CQ's covered the action. See 1Sky's photos here.

1Sky and our allies, including Energy Action Coalition and, will be showing up at senators' events across the country during the August congressional recess to emphasize the urgency of the climate crisis and call for a clean energy economy. We need to show our senators that delay on climate legislation is unacceptable. For more info, check out these sign-up pages from 1Sky, Energy Action Coalition, and

Our allies at Clean Energy Works are planning an August assault to keep up the pressure on the Senate and express disapproval of their inaction on climate change and energy legislation. CEW will be bringing the "Carnivoil," a fake Big Oil party celebrating our continued addiction to fossil fuels, to key states along with other events.

More Reactions to the Climate Bill Delay

Phil Radford, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA, Larry Shapiro from Rockefeller Family Fund, and Kelsey Wirth say that the climate bill stalled out because we failed to build a social movement equal to the task.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of and 1Sky Board member, wrote an inspirational piece in the Los Angeles Times saying the climate movement needs to "talk tough, and act tough" and respond to inaction with "disciplined, nonviolent but very real anger."

The 1Sky Board of Directors released an open letter this weekend to all people and organizations working to combat global warming.

Outlook on September and Lame Duck Session

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Reid said “[T]here's a chance we're going to bring up a broader bill,” referring to provisions beyond the paired down oil spill response bill he's been floating. "We are going to continue fighting for energy legislation before we leave this Congress,” said Reid. A number of senators are fighting for a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), including Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Mark Udall (D-CO). Senator John Kerry (D-MA) remains committed to passing climate change legislation as soon as possible. Senator Kerry also drafted a package called the "Clean Energy Technology Act" a series of tax incentives to increase energy efficiency, alternative fuel vehicles, and renewable energy that could possibly be included in the spill bill after the August recess.

Republicans are suggesting that the Democratic majority in Congress may use a post-election "lame duck" session to pass climate legislation, immigration reform, the employee free choice act, and other legislation to keep their supporters mobilized. Jonathan Martin from Politico notes that it is unlikely that Democrats could come up with 60 votes on any of these hot-button bills.

Clean Air Act Rules Move Forward

The Obama Administration continues to move forward with efforts to enforce the Clean Air Act to cut carbon from cars and big polluters like coal plants and oil refineries. In light of Senate inaction, the Clean Air Act is the best tool available to reduce of global warming pollution from major sources. Forthcoming EPA rules could have a major impact on our emissions. 1Sky is working to show public support for the Obama Administration's efforts to cut carbon pollution via the Clean Air Act

Oil Spill Update: Day 112

BP engineers succeeded in plugging the well that has been leaking oil into the Gulf for over 3 months. The "static kill" operation pumped drilling mud into the well to stop the flow of oil. Now BP is pumping cement into the well to permanently seal it up.

The U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy announced that the BP oil disaster dumped 4.9 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico. Initially, the well spewed 62,000 barrels of oil per day, more than the worst case scenario and far more than the Coast Guard and BP initially said was leaking (5,000 barrels per day). These new numbers make the BP oil disaster the largest oil spill in world history.

The Obama Administration claims that 3/4 of the oil has been dispersed, captured, or evaporated. Government officials say that the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk.

Scientists from across the Gulf region warn that the ecological effects are far from over, noting that 2.5 million barrels of oil have not been recovered from the BP oil disaster. According to Ron Kendall, the Director of the Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech, the full effects of the disaster will not be known for years.

Prepared by Gabe Elsner and Jason Kowalski from the 1Sky Policy Team. Please direct questions or comments to

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