OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate Dems near compromise on oil-spill liability bill

STATE OF PLAY: Key Senate Democrats negotiating oil-spill liability language in a series of closed-door meetings are expected in the coming weeks to produce a compromise proposal, reviving hopes that the Senate could pass an oil-spill response bill this year.

The issue of liability, or how much the company deemed responsible for an oil spill must pay in economic damages, emerged as a key sticking point during efforts last year to pass an oil-spill response bill in the Senate. A compromise on the issue indicates that senators have made significant progress in moving forward on a broad oil-spill bill.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said Tuesday she and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), ardent proponents of offshore drilling, are close to reaching a compromise on liability with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a liberal Democrat and critic of offshore drilling.

“It’s an evolving product and we’re very close to coming to an agreement,” Landrieu said Tuesday. Begich, earlier in the day, said he hopes to unveil a proposal with Landrieu late this week or early next week. An aide in Boxer’s office confirmed to The Hill Tuesday that the compromise could gain the senator’s support. “We believe a compromise is possible,” the aide said.

Under current law, companies are responsible for no more than $75 million in economic damages from a spill (BP has said it will pay all damages). Boxer and others have argued for unlimited liability, while Landrieu, Begich and other drill-state lawmakers have said unlimited liability will limit drilling in the Gulf.

The likely compromise, first outlined by Begich and Landrieu last year, involves creating a mutual insurance pool into which drillers in the Gulf pay. The pool will help cover part of the economic damages in the event of a spill.

Landrieu said she expects the Senate to consider two separate oil-spill bills this year. The first, which will be referred to Boxer’s Environment and Public Works Committee, will deal with liability and Gulf Coast restoration. The second, which will be referred to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, will deal with restructuring the Interior Department’s offshore drilling bureau.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has not yet laid out a timeline for consideration of oil-spill legislation. Reid spokesman Jon Summers said the majority leader hopes to move a bill, but is waiting to see whether the proposal can get bipartisan support.

“Sen. Reid hopes Republicans will support these common-sense measures to protect taxpayers from the cost of BP's negligence, and looks forward to the relevant Senate committees' hearings and action to further inform the next steps,” Summers said.


Murkowski is officially top Energy Committee Republican

Senate Republicans voted Tuesday to keep Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) as the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The lunchtime GOP caucus vote affirmed a decision last week by committee Republicans, Murkowski’s spokesman said.

The decision was expected, but nonetheless brings to a close the drama over Murkowski’s status. Her cachet with Republicans was in question for a time after she lost her primary to Tea Party favorite Joe Miller, and then challenged him in the general election as a write-in candidate. She won.

Landrieu says clean energy standard faces uphill battle

Landrieu (D-La.) said Tuesday that Obama’s proposal to mandate that 80 percent of the country’s electricity come from low-carbon energy sources has little chance of passing the Senate.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult, despite the real evidence that shows that we do need to take action to reduce the effects of carbon in the atmosphere,” she told reporters Tuesday. “I think it’s going to be very difficult to find a path forward on this. I just don’t feel nearly as positive as I did some time ago.”

Asked what made her feel less positive about the chances that the proposal will pass, Landrieu said, “The House changed, the politics has changed completely and I just don’t think we’re going to be able to find any common ground on that area.”

Graham wants more detail on Obama's ‘clean energy standard’

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday that he wants to get more details from Obama on his “clean energy standard” proposal before endorsing it.

“They don’t have a whole lot of details in terms of what is clean energy in Obama’s definition. I’d like more details from the administration as far as what they consider clean energy, how in the world we get to 80 percent,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Obama's plan calls for power companies to provide 80 percent of their electricity from "clean" sources such as renewables, natural gas and nuclear energy by 2035.

Graham is a strong proponent of a “clean energy standard,” having circulated his own version last Congress.

Senators raise concerns about oil prices amid unrest in Egypt

Graham also said he is concerned about the affect of unrest in Egypt on oil prices. “You’re going to see what happens when you’re so dependent on Mid-East oil,” he said.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) raised similar concerns Tuesday.

“This is a huge concern. If radical Islam were to take over Egypt, not only what influence would that have on other Arab states that happen to be friends of ours, but what would happen to the Suez Canal,” he said.

“That would cause a major disruption in commerce if that were shut down, a major increase in transportation expense for goods, oil being one of them,” he continued.

E2 wrote about the potential oil price implications of the Egyptian protests Monday.


Obama, Bingaman to talk energy

The president. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman. Read all about it here.

EPA administrator to testify on drinking water

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson will testify Wednesday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee about public health and drinking water.

Green group to release poll on Newt Gingrich’s kill-EPA plan

The Natural Resources Defense Council on Wednesday will release polling data on reactions to former House Speaker New Gingrich’s recent call to abolish the EPA.

State energy efforts come into focus

The big conference of the National Association of State Energy Officials continues in Washington, D.C., where attendees will hear from senior Energy Department officials who work on efficiency and renewables.

Separately, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute will hold a Capitol Hill briefing titled “State Energy Programs and Their Economic Impacts.”

Nuke waste advisers meet again

Wednesday brings the second and final day of this week’s meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, which is advising the Obama administration on nuclear waste policy.

Expert briefing looks at innovation abroad

The Council on Foreign Relations will hold a conference call Wednesday to discuss “Energy Innovation in Brazil, China, and India: U.S. Policy Implications.” Participants include Michael Levi and other experts with the think tank.


Tuesday began with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce floating its energy policy principles and attacking President Obama’s call for a “clean energy standard” for electric utilities. We also blogged about Wednesday’s planned meeting between Obama and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) that’s expected to focus on the clean standard — a concept that Bingaman has been skeptical about for years.

Elsewhere, we reported that scientists are taking aim at climate skeptics, and Al Gore is trying to convince Bill O’Reilly that heavy snows don’t disprove global warming theory.

On the oil-spill front, we reported that Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said he’s close to floating legislation on raising industry liability levels. On the wind energy front, the Interior Department is pledging to streamline leasing for offshore projects.

Please send tips and comments to Ben Geman, ben.geman@thehill.com, and Andrew Restuccia, arestuccia@thehill.com.

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This story was updated at 9:04 p.m.