Oil Spill May Boost U.S. Climate Bill, Browner Says

We are going to continue to work to move legislation
Director of the U.S. Office of Energy and Climate Policy Carol Browner. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

The BP Plc oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may help galvanize support for climate-change legislation to overhaul U.S. energy policy, White House adviser Carol Browner said.

“This accident, this tragedy, is actually heightening people’s interest in energy in this country and in wanting a different energy plan,” Browner, President Barack Obama’s adviser on energy and climate change, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt” airing this weekend.

Senate efforts to pass legislation promoting clean energy and capping greenhouse-gas emissions stalled last month when South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, the only Republican backing the proposal, withdrew his support to protest Democrats’ indications they would take up immigration first. The climate measure is set to be released as early as next week without Graham, and Browner said she’s hopeful he will sign on to it.

“Senator Graham remains very committed to a different energy future,” Browner said.

Graham today called on Congress to “pause” in efforts to pass climate-change legislation, citing the “catastrophic oil spill” and Democrats’ plans for immigration legislation.

Debate on limiting pollution that scientists link to global warming “should move forward in a reasoned, thoughtful manner and in a political climate which gives us the best chance at success,” Graham said in an e-mail. “Regrettably, in my view, this has become impossible in the current environment.”

‘Death Knell’

The April 20 explosion that sank an oil rig may have been the “death knell” for Obama’s proposal to expand offshore drilling, Mike Morris, chief executive officer of American Electric Power Co., said in an interview on May 4. The oil leak also may have doomed the compromise climate measure that was to include the drilling plan, he said.

Domestic oil production must be part of a new-energy economy, Browner said.

“What we want to do is make sure that we are producing domestic oil to the best of our ability under the safest conditions,” said Browner, who led the Environmental Protection Agency under former President Bill Clinton.

Browner said she gives climate-change legislation a better than 50 percent chance of passing Congress this year.

“We are going to continue to work to move legislation,” Browner said when asked whether Obama will set a deadline for action and tell Congress he wants the issue tackled before an immigration bill. “Obviously we need to work with the Senate to determine what the right schedule is.”

‘Very Aggressive’

The Obama administration is being “very aggressive” in pushing BP to combat and clean up the 5,000-barrel-a-day spill triggered by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig leased by the London-based company, Browner said.

“We are pushing them to make sure they are doing everything, deploying every resource, looking at every potential solution,” and the company is responding, Browner said.

Browner said the administration favors a move in Congress to raise a $75 million cap on economic damages from the spill that BP would face under federal law. More study is needed before determining whether the figure should be $10 billion, as proposed by lawmakers, she said.

The administration also is investigating whether the U.S. Minerals Management Service, the agency that oversees the offshore-oil industry, is too close to energy companies to do an adequate job on safety, Browner said.

“I certainly think there were reports and documented instances during the Bush administration that proved that to be the case,” she said. Obama came in with a “different view of how we manage these things. We need to determine if there are other things we should do going forward.”

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