Reid confirmed that the bill will have four sections: an oil spill response; a clean energy and job creation title; a section that deals reduction in energy consumption; and a broad proposal coming out of the Finance Committee that deals with the electric utility industry.
When asked if the legislation will include a cap on greenhouse gases, Reid said only he will “work on pollution.” Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NV) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) are both working on proposals for a climate regime that would be limited to the utility sector. Reid “said he was meeting with Carol Browner, Obama’s top energy and climate adviser, as well as Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Kerry was planning to meet with environmental groups and former Rep. Glenn English (D-Okla), now the CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association.”
From the Wonk Room.
The undersea cloud of “highly toxic” oil emanating from BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster “is undoubtedly poisonous,” according to President Obama’s federal oceans chief. Marine scientist Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) director, described the threat posed by the “hidden” plumes of oil and dispersants diffusing into the Gulf of Mexico to its valuable ecosystem at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Tuesday. She told interviewer Andrea Mitchell that NOAA and independent scientists have identified “not a lake of black ooze” but a “cloud of very fine droplets spread over an area in the general vicinity of the well,” a prime spawning ground for bluefin tuna. This oil cloud “is undoubtedly poisonous” to the marine life in the Gulf:
As that oil, which is highly toxic, comes into contact with small larvae, with eggs, fish for example, or other creatures, it is undoubtedly poisonous to them.
“This truly is an environmental disaster but more a human tragedy,” Lubchenco said in her opening remarks. “Its impact is likely to be considerable,” she said of the oil hidden undersea, “but we don’t yet know what it will be.”
From the Wonk Room.
Johnnie Burton, former MMS director
As for allegations of lax enforcement at the Minerals Management Service, grossly inadequate spill response plans and other regulatory shortfalls, Burton said that as MMS director she was unaware of those problems. “I can’t answer all these questions at this point because when I was there it seemed to work well,” Burton said.
The agency worked so “well” that investigators found evidence of “cronyism and cover-ups of management blunders; capitulation to oil companies in disputes about payments; plunging morale among auditors; and unreliable data-gathering that often makes it impossible to determine how much money companies actually owe.”Burton was in charge during the development of the offshore drilling plan that expanded drilling to the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Her Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program 2007-2012 included 2008’s Lease Sale 206, in which BP purchased Mississippi Canyon Block 252 (MC252) for $34 million. MC252, also known as the Macondo Prospect, has been flooding the Gulf of Mexico with oil for months now. Burton’s plan dismissed the environmental threat of that sale, primarily because no huge disasters had taken place since the Ixtoc I blowout in 1979, as these excerpts show:
The analysis above shows that with regard to potential oil spill impacts, areas that contain wetlands and marshes such as the Central GOM are particularly sensitive. However, lessees have been producing oil and gas from the Central Gulf and other areas for over 50 years with a remarkable record of environmental safety. For more than 30 years, there have been no significant oil spills from platforms anywhere on the OCS. [p. 92]
No Environmental Justice impacts from accidental oil spills are expected because of the movement of oil and gas activities further away from coastal areas and, also, the demographic pattern of more affluent groups living in coastal areas. [p. 60]
The Central Gulf coastal area ranks second in marine primary productivity only to the Mid-Atlantic. The marine primary productivity of the Central Gulf does not appear to have been appreciably diminished by offshore exploration and production activities. The same is true of other areas of the OCS with existing operations and production. Thus, the size, location, and timing of lease sales in the PFP are consistent with the marine primary productivity of the areas in which lease sales will be held. [p. 95]
Overall, impacts on national parks, national wildlife refuges, national estuarine research reserves, and national estuary program sites due to routine operations are expected to be limited under the proposed action because these areas are restricted from development. Impacts from oil spills are unlikely because it is anticipated that 75 percent of the hydrocarbons developed, as a result of the 2007-2012 leasing program in the GOM area are expected to occur in deep water (>330 m) usually located far from the shoreline. [p. 57]
Any single large spill would likely affect only a small proportion of a given fish population within the GOM, and it is unlikely that fish resources would be permanently affected. [p. 57]
In areas with a large proportion of impact-sensitive industry, such as tourism, the potential incremental impacts of oil spills would likely result in a one-time seasonal decline in business activity. [p. 59]
Impacts of accidental releases to water quality would depend on the size of the spill, type of material or product spilled, and environmental factors at the time of the spill. However, there would be no long-term, widespread impairment of marine water quality. [p. 60]
From the Wonk Room.President Barack Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer he would have fired BP CEO Tony Hayward for his dismissive comments about the foreign oil giant’s Gulf of Mexico disaster. After relating Hayward’s “very big ocean,” “very very modest” and “I’d like my life back” comments, Lauer asked, “He doesn’t work for you, but if he did, would you want him out?” Obama replied that Hayward would be out of a job:
He wouldn’t be working for me after any of those statements.
Hayward’s dismissive comments are not unusual for BP management—Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, COO Doug Suttles, BP America President Lamar McKay, and Managing Director Bob Dudley have likewise minimized off the scale of the disaster and the devastation to the United States of America while overselling their failed attempts to stop the oil gusher, which may now be flowing at four million gallons a day.
According to National Incident Commander Thad Allen, Tony Hayward is still actively involved in the oil disaster response, discussing issues regularly with Allen. In addition to the failed efforts to stop the leaks, BP still controls claims processing, environmental contractors on land and sea, volunteer assistance, access to the disaster site, hotlines, and data collection.
From the Wonk Room.
On Monday, May 17, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews erupted in anger at the oil disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. Matthews expressed his rage at the profits BP continues to reap as it fails to fix the growing environmental apocalypse. He also criticized the behavior of the Obama administration, which has let the foreign oil giant control much of the disaster response. Matthews wondered why President Obama doesn’t “nationalize that industry and get the job done” and noted that in the “brutal society” of China, “they execute people for this.”
It is maddening that our government is – everybody says, “Capitalism is great. Unbridled free enterprise is great.” Look at it!
Matthews decried the moral hazard created by privatized profit and socialized risk. Matthews concluded by calling out the “millions of people in the American right” who deny the threats of climate change and other environmental catastrophes from our dependence on fossil fuels:
Millions of people in the American right who sit around and say there’s no such thing as mankind destroying his environment through climate change or whatever – there’s an example of what we’re doing right now. We can destroy our habitat on this planet, and it’s the only one we got.
Rush Limbaugh fired back, saying Matthews is “basically asking for a dictator” with his “delusional, deranged” commentary. Matthews has repeated his criticism of BP and the administration, telling Jay Leno on May 21 that President Obama is acting like “a Vatican observer here.” On May 19, Matthews asked for “Harry Truman to come back and do the job” – making reference to Truman’s seizure of the steel industry in 1952.
From the Wonk Room.
Last night, the Wonk Room published a summary of the provisions of the American Power Act, the comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation being introduced today by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT). This post delves deeper into the legislation’s specific provisions. The following table compares key elements of Obama’s campaign promises from 2007 and 2008, the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act as passed by the House of Representatives, and the elements of the Kerry-Lieberman draft legislation, as based on leaked summaries.
The Kerry-Lieberman legislation has a 15-year transition period that supports state-level renewable and energy efficiency initiatives (which will create millions of jobs), invests in smart transportation, and rebuilds American manufacturing, much like Waxman-Markey, but with new support for nuclear energy and natural gas that reflects the interests of large blocs of senators.
Important scientific elements in Kerry-Lieberman are the rapid mitigation of super-greenhouse gases and black carbon, as well as natural resource adaptation programs. By the end of 2025 the legislation has shifted to resemble the refund-based auctioned-allowance system promoted by President Obama and advocates of cap-and-dividend.
The primary missing information from the summaries is the disposition of the allowances—how they will be distributed to polluters and how rapidly the auctioned pool grows. Details of the scientific review provisions were also not included.
Download the short summary as a readable PDF.
Download the section-by-section summary as a readable PDF.
From the Wonk Room.
USCG Cmdr. Adm. Thad Allen
There’s enough oil out there it’s logical to assume it will impact the shoreline. The question is when and where.
Allen said that the underwater sea of oil will keep growing until BP is able to cap it, a process that “could go for 45 to 90 days.” If oil continues to flow at current rates for that length of time, that would add up to about 90 million gallons of oil, on the scale of the largest oil spills in history. The winds are expected to shift, directing the spill towards the Mississippi and Alabama coasts over the next 72 to 96 hours. The extended network of floating booms being deployed and dispersants sprayed from C-130s will only mitigate, not stop, the oil’s impact.
Allen led a “2002 planning exercise in New Orleans for an oil spill in the Gulf Coast,” and is applying lessons learned from that exercise today. In 2005, Allen rose to public prominence when the hapless FEMA director Michael Brown asked him to take over the Hurricane Katrina response, a week after the global-warming-fueled storm had made landfall, killed thousands, and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless. It’s a good sign that Allen is being called in this time when this new fossil-industry disaster is just hitting our shores.
From the Wonk Room.Although both immigration and climate reform are top priorities for the Obama administration, White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes said, it is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) who “sets the agenda.” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd questioned Barnes Monday morning over the conflict between Reid and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that derailed the expected unveiling of comprehensive climate legislation Monday. Barnes said that energy reform – what President Obama has called one of his “foundational priorities” – is “critical to this country,” while immigration reform is “important.” However, she repeatedly indicated that the responsibility for moving forward lies with Reid:
MELODY BARNES: What the president and administration want is to work with Congress, Republicans and Democrats in Congress to address these big issues. The Senate Majority Leader will make a decision how to go forward. Immigration reform is important. We also know that comprehensive energy reform is critical to this country. We have to get away from reliance on foreign oil. We know we can create clean energy jobs. So both of these are top priorities for this president. We’re going to be working with the Senate.
CHUCK TODD: Can either be signed this year?
BARNES: We’re hoping to move forward with the majority leader as he sets the agenda.
Reid’s staff had leaked to reporters that the majority leader wanted the Senate to consider an immigration bill before climate legislation, a statement that made little sense other than a response to local political pressures. As Graham, who has been the lead Republican on both issues, voiced his displeasure, it seems neither Reid nor the White House reached out to quell his anger. Graham and Sen. John Kerry’s (D-MA) American Power Act is ready to be unveiled for direct floor consideration, but immigration reform requires “significant committee work that has not yet begun”—as Reid said. President Obama has been keeping his pledge to immigration reform advocates to raise the issue with Republicans like Sen. Scott Brown (D-MA) to get on board with Graham and Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) immigration effort, but the two bills aren’t on the same timetable.
In addition to the fealty of most Republicans to killer fossil industries, Democrats have competing camps on the best pathway to energy action, with senators like Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) pushing for alternate strategies to President Obama’s comprehensive climate reform. Reid has waffled on whether he would be willing to risk conflict with Democratic committee chairs by taking climate reform straight to the floor. This potential conflict with senators like agriculture chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and finance chair Max Baucus (D-MT) would likely have to be mediated by the President, even as Graham would have the responsibility of locking down Republican votes other than himself.
The unveiling of green economy legislation by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) Monday has been indefinitely postponed, following a whisper campaign that Senate leadership preferred tackling immigration reform instead. Below is the timeline of the last four days, in which political reporters quote anonymous “Democratic officials” and “Senate Democratic aides” to promote the rumor:
Wednesday, April 21: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) meet. Based entirely on comments from anonymous “Senate Democratic aides,” Roll Call’s John Stanton claims that “Democratic leaders are pushing ahead with plans to move comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year — even if it means punting on energy legislation until next Congress.” The Hill’s Ben Geman cites “a Democratic aide” to claim Pelosi said she is “fine” with “the Senate taking up immigration reform before climate change legislation.” The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler cites “three Democratic officials” to claim “both leaders said they would put immigration ahead of energy on their priority list.”
Thursday, April 22, Earth Day: The Associated Press’s Laurie Kellerman and Matthew Day cite “two Democratic officials” to repeat the immigration-first rumor.
Pelosi holds a press conference, and is asked about the rumor. Pelosi responds that “energy security and addressing the climate crisis is the flagship issue of my speakership,” notes that the House has “already passed our energy bill,” and “if the Senate is ready with an immigration bill, we don’t want anybody holding it up for any reason, and we would be pleased to welcome it to the House.” Fox News’ Chad Pergram interprets her remarks to claim “Pelosi Okay On Delaying Climate Bill in Lieu of Immigration.”
Graham tells reporters that “If immigration comes up then that’s the ultimate CYA politics,” and “It destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate” to jump to immigration reform legislation, because “We haven’t done anything to prepare the body or the country for immigration” and “business and labor are not together on a temporary worker bill.”
In a story by Politico’s Marin Cogan about Graham’s comments, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) “declined to say which bill she’d prefer be taken up first.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) tells the Christian Science Monitor’s Linda Feldmann, “I don’t know that anybody made a determination in the discussions I have had with leadership that immigration is more important than energy,” and agrees with Graham’s assessment, “I am not sure the Senate can move an immigration bill.”
Friday, April 23: A “Democratic aide” tells Politico’s Kasie Hunt: “Immigration is gaining steam; climate change may suffer.”
“I think these are separate issues on separate legislative tracks,’’ Lieberman says in a conference call. “One will not adversely affect the other.” Hartford Courant’s Daniela Altimari reports “Lieberman said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid assured him that he will bring the climate and energy bill to the floor, likely in late May or early June, barring any obstacles.”
Saturday, April 24: Graham sends a letter to business, religious and conservation leaders that “I will be unable to move forward on energy independence legislation at this time” because of “what appears to be a decision by the Obama Administration and Senate Democratic leadership to move immigration instead of energy,” unless “their plan substantially changes this weekend.”
Reid, the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin writes, “declined to assure Graham on Saturday that he would put immigration behind energy in the legislative lineup,” responding in a statement instead: “I will not allow him to play one issue off of another, and neither will the American people.” The Hill’s Eric Zimmerman interprets Reid’s statement to claim he “said today that Democrats might push climate legislation before immigration reform.” Reid’s statement blames Republicans, specifically “the tremendous pressure he is under from members of his own party not to work with us on either measure.”
The White House “also declined to indicate whether it would address Graham’s concerns,” issuing a statement by climate advisor Carol Browner saying, “We believe the only way to make progress on these priorities is to continue working as we have thus far in a bipartisan manner to build more support for both comprehensive energy independence and immigration reform legislation.” Talking Points Memo’s Christina Bellantoni notes Browner says about climate reform, “We’re determined to see it happen this year.”
In the evening, Kerry releases a statement that “regrettably external issues have arisen that force us to postpone only temporarily” the Monday unveiling because Graham “feels immigration politics have gotten in the way and for now prevent him from being engaged in the way he intended.” “Joe and I will continue to work together and are hopeful that Lindsey will rejoin us once the politics of immigration are resolved.”
In summary: although Lieberman and Hoyer attempted to debunk the rumor, Senate leadership and the White House refused to address the rumor of timing spread by anonymous Democratic staffers and officials. Graham, who has also been the lead Republican working on immigration with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), announced Saturday he would not participate in a bill rollout with its fate on the Senate calendar placed in competition with unwritten immigration legislation.
The committee easily approved, 16-6, an amendment from ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that would establish a point of order against using reconciliation for any new program whose spending exceeds 20 percent of the amount of the reconciliation instruction to the committee. In essence, that would mean that any far-reaching legislative program – including climate legislation – would likely violate the provision.
“One would hope that you’re not going to put energy in reconciliation, but if you are it would definitely trip this point of order,” Gregg said.
The point of order could be waved but that would require the support of 60 senators, negating the procedural advantage of moving a bill though the filibuster-proof reconciliation process.
A number of Democrats, including Conrad, had said even before yesterday’s action that there appeared to be little interest in the Senate in moving climate legislation through reconciliation. Indeed, Conrad and five other committee Democrats voted with the Republicans on Gregg’s amendment.