As the Gulf oil-spill disaster worsens, there appears to be growing support in the Senate for a slimmed-down energy bill that would hold BP accountable and may also include many elements of a measure the Energy and Natural and Resources Committee cleared last summer, industry sources say. House Democrats also are working on oil-spill legislation but appear to be leaning toward taking up a series of targeted bills, not a big package.
In the Senate, a key question is whether energy legislation will include climate-change provisions. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) proposed a measure in May that would establish a limit on greenhouse-gas emissions and a system for trading emission allowances.
Kerry and Lieberman insist an energy bill that lacks a cap-and-trade program will do little to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil or spur enough investment to create jobs. On June 15, Lieberman told reporters, “Any alternative legislation being proposed—some of which has some good stuff in it—that does not do something to price carbon will not unleash the billions and billions in the private sector that are waiting for that signal to [invest in] clean, alternative-energy sources for our society.”
But there is only lukewarm support among Senate Democrats for a cap-and-trade bill, construction industry insiders say. As a result, they suggest Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) instead may turn to something like the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s measure and permit amendments to be offered that incorporate elements of the Kerry-Lieberman legislation. “I think they would have to weigh whether they have the votes before [they] bring up an amendment like that,” says Karen Lapsevic, the Associated General Contractors’ director of tax, fiscal affairs and infrastructure finance. However, she notes the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s measure already has made it through committee and has been “out there for a while, and it seems to have bipartisan support behind it.”
That measure, sponsored by energy committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), also is backed by Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), It includes a renewable-energy standard as well as provisions to spur energy efficiency in buildings and improve the electricity grid.
Reid was expected to meet with other Senate Democrats on June 17 to discuss energy legislation. “If there’s no consensus coming out of [that] meeting of the entire caucus, it’s going to be really hard for [Reid] to get 60 votes on anything,” notes Diane Shea, American Council of Engineering Companies’ director of environment and energy programs. ACEC likes several parts of Bingaman’s bill, including some of the buildings provisions and the renewable-electricity standard.
Meanwhile, the House, which passed a comprehensive climate-change measure in June 2009, currently appears to be focused on multiple bills to address the oil spill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters on June 11 that committee chairmen are working on several oil-spill-related bills and said the likely plan is to take up each measure in turn.
Pelosi said, “No decision has been made” about whether to bundle the bills together. She added, “Most likely, we would probably take them as they are ready.”
Among the bills House Democrats are considering are measures to raise the $75-million liability cap for spills in which no oil-company negligence is found and revamping Interior Dept. offshore oil-leasing programs.