States may get more of a voice on oil drilling

Kerry to unveil bill without GOP support

'It’s possible. Of course it’s possible. But it’s going to take a lot of lifting,'' Senator John F. Kerry said of the proposed climate and energy bill passing this year. "It’s possible. Of course it’s possible. But it’s going to take a lot of lifting,'' Senator John F. Kerry said of the proposed climate and energy bill passing this year.
By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / May 12, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Senator John F. Kerry, acknowledging the mounting anger over the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, has changed his signature climate change bill to give states more say over offshore drilling, according to a summary of a proposal he plans to unveil today.

States would be allowed to veto plans for any drilling within 75 miles of their shores. In addition, they could veto plans for drilling off neighboring states if they can show significant impacts, according to a copy of the summary.

Salazar wants to split agency overseeing drilling. A9

In addition to confronting a new reality on offshore drilling since the spill, Kerry and Senator Joe Lieberman are taking a political gamble in releasing their much anticipated climate and energy bill without the Republican support that Kerry once called crucial. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, had spent months helping to craft the proposal, only to back away several weeks ago.

“We’re proceeding forward because we believe it’s critical to the country,’’ Kerry said in an interview. “Obviously these are very turbulent political times and we’re going to have to navigate very rough waters.’’

Graham pulled his backing because Democrats suggested support for immigration reform would have priority over climate change. Kerry and Lieberman tried to persuade him to rejoin their efforts but decided late last week to move forward without bipartisan support, a departure from the approach Kerry had taken during seven months of negotiations. “You cannot pass a bill without a coalition of all of these senators,’’ Kerry told the Globe in January.

Graham said last week the oil spill makes passing a climate bill “impossible in the current environment.’’

The spill has prompted even supporters of offshore drilling to reconsider its expansion and how government oversees the industry. As Kerry and Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, unveil the legislation today, senators are expected to hold a second day of hearings over what caused the spill and who is to blame.

In a bid to attract the support of businesses and Republicans, Kerry’s bill had been expected to call for additional offshore drilling. In recent days, however, Kerry tempered that call by giving coastal states more control over what is generated off their shores. In addition to veto power, states would be allowed to share federal royalties from leases they support.

“We’d be crazy not to react to what’s going on down in the Gulf,’’ Kerry said in an interview.

He is continuing to reach out to Republicans.

“You have to consider the context of the economy with which we find ourselves,’’ Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, said yesterday after meeting earlier with Kerry. “I had concerns about [drilling] in any event . . . not to mention the devastation on the environment and on our ecosystem that we’re now witnessing in the Gulf.’’

Kerry has also met several times with Senator Scott Brown, the newly elected Massachusetts Republican.

“We’ve been so busy with financial reform, I haven’t really focused on it,’’ Brown said yesterday.

In lieu of Republican support, Kerry is banking on politically-connected industry executives to pressure their home-state senators to pass the bill. A key bargaining chip for Kerry is that the Environmental Protection Agency has considered developing its own greenhouse gas rules. Such regulations could be more far-reaching, which worries Republicans and oil-producing states. Kerry’s bill would prohibit the EPA from developing its own rules.

For Kerry and Lieberman to succeed, President Obama would have to aggressively push for the bill, both through public appearances and behind-the-scenes appeals to recalcitrant Democrats. The White House has been supportive of Kerry’s efforts but has been more focused on a financial regulation overhaul, the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan, and immigration reform.

Some outside observers say the bill, while possibly provoking discussion toward a future solution, stands little chance of coming up for a final vote.

“The chances [of it passing this year] were already very small,’’ said Robert N. Stavins, an environmental policy professor at Harvard University. “And I don’t know if substantive changes will make a difference to a Republican who doesn’t want to give a victory to the Democrats and President Obama at this time.’’

Kerry is hopeful but will not predict victory.

“It’s possible. Of course it’s possible,’’ he said. “But it’s going to take a lot of lifting.’’

Yesterday, oil executives faced irate lawmakers over their role in the Gulf spill. BP officials told a Senate committee that the spill was partially caused by a failure of a safety system controlled by a different company. That company blamed a third company.

“I hear one message — don’t blame me,’’ said Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican. “Shifting the blame game doesn’t get us very far.’’

About a dozen congressional hearings are expected in the coming weeks; in the House, Representative Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat, is planning to hold a hearing today with executives from BP, Halliburton, and Transocean before his Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

Kerry’s legislation would put a price on carbon emissions and provide billions of dollars in incentives to industry to drastically cut greenhouse gases. Most of the proceeds would be directed back to the public in the form of rebates — an approach Kerry has called “reduce and refund.’’

The bill would also halt a groundbreaking regional effort to curb emissions from power plants in Massachusetts and other states, replacing such programs with a single federal version. The goal is to slice carbon pollution 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

Matt Viser can be reached at