Democratic solons are gearing up to try to pass Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) scaled-back oil-spill/energy legislation when Congress returns after Labor Day.


Reid says all the bill’s provisions have bipartisan support. But some industry sources say the bill is too narrow and would do little to address the nation’s energy challenges or the economic crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. They say they would like to see included in the bill key provisions of legislation approved in 2009 by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Reid pulled the package from the floor on Aug. 3 after determining that no Republicans would support it and said he would bring the bill up for consideration in September. His measure would lift the existing $75-million liability ceiling for oil companies when a spill occurs; the bill also includes some modest incentives for consumers to pay for home-efficiency improvements.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), key sponsor of a measure to remove the liability cap, told reporters on Aug. 5 that Democratic lawmakers intend to use the August work period to highlight the differences between the Democratic bill and a separate bill drafted by Republicans. A key difference is that the GOP package does not lift the liability cap. “The question for the summer of 2010 is, whose side are you on … Big Oil and BP or American taxpayers?” Menendez said.

Democratic leaders are uncertain whether they can garner Republican support for Reid’s package. “Several key Republicans have said they need more time to consider our bill and its merits. We’re giving that chance. I hope it will lead to a reasonable discussion and their support,” Reid said in a statement.

Industry sources say they are disappointed with what has been put forward. Brewster Bevis, senior director of legislative affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors, says eliminating the liability cap would increase the cost of oil per barrel—a cost that would be passed on to consumers. He wants to see a bill that lifts the moratorium on most offshore drilling, which is negatively impacting ABC members in the Gulf region, he says.

Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, says there is “tremendous bipartisan support” for a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) and that her group will work with lawmakers to see a measure added. Diane Shea, director of environmental and energy programs at the American Council of Engineering Companies, says her group also would like to see an RES, but adding it to the bill would require more floor time, a luxury Reid may not have. Even if his bill passes, Shea said broader energy legislation needs to be enacted. “We cannot go on without addressing energy needs in this country,” she said.

Lifts liability cap on oil companies for oil spills.
Offers rebates to consumers for home-efficiency improvements.
Invests in the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Spurs investment in vehicles that run on electricy and natural gas.
Source: Office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid