OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Gulf oil-spill report stirs talk of legislation

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STATE OF PLAY: Oil-spill commission report, gas prices may revive debate on spill bill

A major report on the BP oil spill coupled with jitters about rising gas prices are reviving talk in the Senate of tackling spill response and energy legislation.

The oil-spill commission released a chapter of its final report Wednesday; the full report will be released next week. The report blamed a “failure of management” by BP and the other companies involved in the construction and operation of the Macondo well for the spill.

But before a bill can move forward, one major issue has to be resolved: liability. Drill-state lawmakers have locked horns with anti-drilling Democrats over the issue of exactly what portion of the damages from an oil spill the responsible party must pay.

Under current law, that number is capped at $75 million (BP has said it will go beyond that cap if necessary). Sens. Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, both New Jersey Democrats, as well as Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and others have argued that companies responsible for a spill should pay 100 percent of the damages. Menendez is using the oil-spill commission's report, which found "systemic" problems in the oil industry, to gain traction for a bill that would remove the $75 million cap.

But Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) argue for a mechanism to share liability between the responsible party and the oil industry as a whole in order to prevent companies from having to shoulder multibillion-dollar bills.

Last year, attempts to pass an oil-spill response bill in the Senate petered out, largely over disagreements about liability. The key lawmakers involved in the issue continue to discuss a potential compromise.

Landrieu says spill commission report will drive efforts to pass spill, energy bill

“I hope that this report would push for a spill bill," Landrieu said Thursday.

Lautenberg told The Hill today that he’s willing to talk with Landrieu and others about a compromise on liability. “There’s always a willingness to talk. You can’t win a race unless you go to the starting line first,” he said. “But you have to understand that the distance between the view of drill, drill, drill and my concern for protecting the environment are quite broad."

Senators: Rising gas prices will refocus lawmakers' attention on energy

Still, rising gas prices will provide an incentive to move forward on an energy or oil-spill bill, lawmakers say.

“The higher the pump prices are, the more likely it is for Congress to debate energy bills/spill bills/get-the-Gulf-back-to-work bills, because it will focus people’s attention on this issue, and it is an important issue, it’s not going to get away,” Landrieu said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made similar comments Wednesday. “I think $4 per gallon gas is coming and it’s an opportunity to reengage on energy policy,” he said.

It's unclear just what form spill legislation might take. A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday it is too early to talk specifics. "It is still a priority to protect and restore our waters, coastlines and economy from catastrophic oil spill damage," the spokeswoman said.


NEWSBITES:

EPA chief, House Dems meet amid GOP attacks on climate rules

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson met in the Capitol Thursday with roughly two dozen House Democrats who are members of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, which is chaired by Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Steve Israel (D-N.Y.).

The members “expressed strong support” for EPA’s work to protect the air and water, according to an aide familiar with the meeting.

The meeting comes as ascendant House Republicans are planning to attack EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, which is of concern to members of the coalition.

Murkowski co-sponsoring Rockefeller EPA climate delay bill?

Sen. Jay Rockefeller told reporters Thursday that his Senate colleague Lisa Murkowski will co-sponsor his bill to delay EPA’s climate authority by two years. But Murkowski’s spokesman, Robert Dillon, said no final decisions have been made yet.

Dillon says Murkowski “supports the goal” of Rockefeller’s bill. But he said Murkowski has not yet seen his updated language. The bill will have to be changed to address EPA rules that have already taken effect. “Also there’s a legitimate policy debate to be had on whether a delay is even appropriate now in comparison to a more permanent solution,” he said.

Rockefeller’s bill would delay EPA’s climate authority for two years, while others have called for permanently blocking the agency’s authority. Rockefeller has said he will reintroduce his bill early this year.

Bills to block EPA climate rules pile up

On Thursday we reported that dozens of House Republicans introduced a bill on the first day of the new Congress that would nullify EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases.

But wait ... there’s more. Other House bills to halt or delay climate rules have quickly emerged. On Thursday Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) introduced a bill that would delay EPA regulations for two years, while Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) floated a measure with 19 co-sponsors that would prevent funding for EPA to implement or enforce a cap-and-trade program.

The bills are the opening volleys in House Republicans’ push to roll back emissions rules.

Alaska Republican seeks to strip polar bear protections


Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced a bill Wednesday that would strip Endangered Species Act protections for polar bears, which are at risk due to melting sea ice and other threats.

The bears are currently listed as “threatened” under the law. Critics of the listing say it’s unnecessary and fear that protections for the bear will stymie oil-and-gas development.

“This listing threatens the economic well-being of hardworking Alaskans. My legislation sets America back on the path to responsible development and prosperity,” Young said in a statement.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

Here’s a rundown of what E2 reported Thursday: A bipartisan coalition of 32 House lawmakers are calling on the Interior Department not to impose regulations on natural gas “fracking.” We told you which energy groups were contacted by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) as part of his effort to identify onerous Obama administration regulations.

Meanwhile, Boxer promised to fight efforts to block EPA’s climate rules. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing on Jan. 26 on the national oil-spill commission’s final report. And we reported on a strange energy debate that broke out in a Senate hallway.


AROUND THE WEB

Exxon CEO pushes back against spill commission finding

“The explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig, resulting in the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, was caused by its operators' decisions and not by general problems in the oil industry, Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) Chief Executive Rex Tillerson said Thursday,” Dow Jones reports.

“Tillerson's comments follow the release of the conclusions reached by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, which said that management errors were made but that ‘systemic failures’ by industry and regulators helped lead to the disaster," their piece adds.