BP spill may kill hopes for climate deal 

When John Kerry addressed environmental groups about the need to pass his comprehensive energy reform bill this year, he did not mention the disastrous oil spill now threatening the Gulf of Mexico and Florida's west coast.

Kerry focused his Wednesday speech on "green" jobs, but he and his bill are in a perilous position when it comes to oil drilling.

The legislation is expected to call for an expansion of drilling in coastal waters, a provision needed to lure enough votes from Republicans and moderate Democrats to pass the bill. The bill will also call for steep reductions in carbon emissions and potentially a gas tax, which many Republicans oppose.

But the drilling provision inserted to draw support on the right has now caused a collapse in support on the left, as Democrats lined up to denounce any plans to widen drilling.

"My inclination is I probably won't do any more voting for offshore drilling," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who has twice in the past voted for legislation to expand coastal drilling.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Committee on Environment and Public Works, said the spill has prompted lawmakers to rethink their position on new drilling.

"This underscores the fact that we must come up with clean, alternative energy," Boxer said. "I think everyone is taking a deep breath and reassessing this whole issue of offshore drilling openness."

Boxer and other Democrats, including Obama's climate change czar, Carol Browner, say the spill will help bring Republicans to the table on the Obama administration's terms when it comes to negotiating a climate change bill.

"The hill that proponents of offshore drilling have to climb grows steeper by the day," Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., told the Washington Examiner.

While the spill may have killed the appetite for new drilling, the legislation will eventually have to attract 60 votes in the Senate. And without being able to offer the incentive of expanded drilling, that may be impossible.

"We have to keep in mind that this industry drives the economy and in addition to that we are going to need more oil and natural gas for decades to come," said Erik Milito, of the American Petroleum Institute.

Kerry's bill had already suffered a setback when Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., announced he would back out of the deal if Democratic leaders decided to take up immigration reform legislation this year.

Graham's support is still tenuous at best and without the drilling component, any chance at a bipartisan coalition may vanish along with critical support from moderate Democrats.

"The legislation has three basic pillars," Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said. "More oil and gas, more nuclear energy and in exchange for those two things, putting a price on carbon and dealing with that. At least temporarily, this has probably knocked one of the legs of the stool off to the side."

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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