Gulf Oil Spill: One More Way to Kill a Climate Bill

Last Updated May 5, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

The 210,000-gallon-a-day oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico may soon claim another victim: the climate-change bill. It's ironic. But it's true, nonetheless. Climate-change legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting clean energy is at risk because of an oil spill.

The climate-change bill drafted by a tripartisan trio of senators had its fair share of problems long before the Transocean (RIG) oil rig, leased by BP (BP), exploded and triggered a leak deep under water. The bill hasn't even seen the light of day, thanks to some last-minute politicking that sent Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham into a tiff.

Now the climate bill is in peril for the very reason it was once championed. Graham, along with co-authors Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., spent months crafting a bill that takes an "all of the above approach" to energy. The bill would cut emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, promote renewable energy and boost domestic production of oil, natural gas and even nuclear energy.

The idea was give lawmakers who were long-time opponents of climate change legislation something that would change their minds and ultimately their votes. Sure, there were hefty hurdles to overcome. But the plan had encouraged some unlikely lawmakers to at least contemplate the bill.

The oil spill has changed that. Environmentalists weren't too keen on the idea of expanded domestic drilling to begin with. Now, some powerful advocates of the offshore drilling have pulled back their support.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist have changed their minds about offshore drilling. Schwarzenegger went a step further and withdrew support for a plan to allow drilling offshore Santa Barbara County. Several senators, the latest being Democrat Jay Rockefeller, have refused to vote for any bill that expands offshore drilling.

No one seems to have read the climate-change bill yet and so we don't really know what it says about offshore drilling. It's likely that the bill contains incentives for companies to drill domestically, both offshore and onshore. The bill will probably deal with revenue sharing, the politically sticky issue of determining whether coastal states deserve a portion of the royalties collected by the U.S. government.

It's important to remember that President Obama already unveiled a plan this spring to expand offshore drilling. Which means, the bill probably won't contain any "expand drilling" language, and instead just deal with the incentives part. Of course, cushy incentives promotes offshore drilling and will likely be the target of these newly reformed lawmakers.

Opponents, both new and old, will likely hold the bill hostage until any plans to expand offshore drilling by the president or in the bill are killed altogether. Once that occurs, any tentatively supportive Republican lawmakers will walk or at least threaten to. Either way, the climate-change and energy bill's future is dimming by the minute.

Think that's bad? Consider this WTF scenario: One way to keep the climate bill alive, even if offshore drilling is excluded, would be to give even more concessions to Big Oil and other industries worried about the economic impact of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In short, a weaker climate bill that gives more away.

Satellite image of oil spill from NASA Photo of Transocean oil rig on fire from the U.S. Coast Guard See additional BNET Energy coverage of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill: