WASHINGTON — Ten Senate Democrats from coastal states warned in a letter released Thursday that they won't support a climate and energy bill if it permits a big expansion of drilling for offshore oil and natural gas.
The 10 generally are viewed as inclined to vote for a bill to cut the heat-trapping emissions from the use of coal, gas and oil.
Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, are trying to draft bipartisan legislation that's capable of getting the 60 votes that are needed in the Senate to overcome a filibuster, but they haven't unveiled it.
The letter, sent Tuesday to Kerry, Graham and Lieberman, is the latest example of how some of the compromises expected in the legislation trouble supporters of environmental protection. Expanded oil and gas drilling is part of the Republican energy platform and essentially has been endorsed by President Barack Obama.
The 10 senators warned that expanded offshore drilling could put their states at risk from oil spills, threatening fisheries, tourism and a "national treasure that needs to be protected for generations to come." The letter also notes that the Energy Information Administration, part of the Department of Energy, has reported that oil and gas drilling on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico wouldn't have a significant impact on U.S. oil and natural gas prices until 2030. The best way to lower oil prices is through energy efficiency and conservation, the letter says.
It also warns that offshore oil and gas production could restrict military training in the ocean.
Signing it were Bill Nelson of Florida, Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, Ted Kaufman of Delaware, and Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Nelson's office released the letter and said it meant "in a nutshell: no oil rigs off protected coastal states."
The 10 wrote that they appreciated Kerry, Graham and Lieberman's work to draft a bill that would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and advance clean energy. "After all, our states are literally the front lines when it comes to the severe impacts we'll see from sea level rise and stronger storms."
However, they wrote, "We hope that as you forge legislation, you are mindful that we cannot support legislation that will mitigate one risk only to put our coasts at greater peril from another source."
Some reports about the still-evolving legislation say that it would let coastal states themselves decide whether to open up for oil and gas leasing off their shores. The federal government would share revenues with those states. The letter writers said they'd heard "that some interests are aggressively pursuing an effort to open the nation's coasts and oceans for unfettered access to oil and gas drilling."
The House of Representatives passed a climate bill last June that relies on a carbon emissions trade system, but the legislation doesn't have enough support to pass in the Senate.
Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are trying to find a different way to put a cap on emissions so that they decline by 17 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Obama set that target for the U.S. when the world's governments held a climate meeting in December.
The vast majority of the world's climate scientists agree that sharp reductions of heat-trapping gases will be needed globally to improve the odds of avoiding dangerous climate shifts.
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