Spill Bill Stalled

By Beacon Staff

My main story last week was about the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a somewhat obscure program that takes fees from drilling on the outer continental shelf and funds conservation and recreation. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., attached a provision fully funding the LWCF to the so-called, “Spill Bill,” a scaled-back piece of legislation aimed at encouraging conservation and increasing regulatory authority over oil and gas exploration. Senate Democrats opted for a more modest energy effort since they apparently lacked the votes for a broader, more comprehensive energy bill that would include provisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But apparently, Senate Democrats lack the votes even for this effort, as Politico reports Majority Leader Harry Reid is postponing a vote on the Spill Bill until September, at least. The reasons? Republicans and Democrats allied with the oil industry oppose it. From Politico:

Central to the offshore drilling reform bill was a title to eliminate the $75 million liability cap on damages oil companies must pay in the case of spills and other disasters. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), both close allies of the oil industry, made clear they opposed that provision.

The deeply partisan atmosphere in the Senate ensured that there would be no opportunity to amend the bill with a scaled-down compromise liability title. Reid’s staff had made clear that if the bill were to come to the floor, it would be subject to a only straight up or down vote.

Staffers close to the Republican leadership said that if the bill had been left open for amendments, Republicans would then hijack the debate with amendments designed to prolong partisan arguments and revive GOP attacks on the broader Democratic energy initiatives, including cap and trade.

Both sides blamed the deadlock on partisan politics.

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