OCS leasing loses bargaining clout in politics of climate

Bob Tippee

As a bargaining tool in the politics of climate change, expansion of oil and gas leasing off the US always has raised problems. After the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, even politicians eager to deploy it must be having second thoughts.

Senate sponsors of climate-change legislation are desperate to act. The House has passed a bill that would cap emissions of greenhouse gases and create a broad market for emission allowances.

But many senators are wary. Democrats, especially, have big political problems after voting for unpopular health-care reform legislation. They want no part in another political brawl months before an election.

Many senators, too, recognize that the House bill is political junk, the product of do-or-die deals with affected industries. On climate change, the Senate knows it must start with something much different from what the House passed.

Countering the political mood, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have been running a climate-change and energy bill through the political machinery.

They’re emphasizing jobs that the measure supposedly would create with generous support for uneconomic forms of energy. They’re also frantic. They know that if the Congress doesn’t pass something on climate change now, it might not revisit the issue for a while.

So they added expansion of offshore oil and gas leasing to the package hoping to attract support of otherwise wary colleagues.

The tradeoff is demonic. If the climate portions of the Senate bill are like the House version, refiners would stand to suffer. One industry segment thus would benefit politically at the other’s grave expense—never a healthy development.

Furthermore, the Senate scheme would retain for at least some industries the cap-and-trade mechanism, a brewery for scandal with which the oil and gas business should not wish to be associated in any way.

Now, however, with spilled oil touching Gulf Coast beaches and river deltas, many senators will have lost whatever taste they had for expanded oil and gas leasing of the Outer Continental Shelf.

Vote bait thus becomes vote repellant. It was the wrong role for OCS leasing in the first place.

(Online May 7, 2010; author’s e-mail:

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