10 Dems warn Kerry: Don't expand offshore drilling in climate change bill

The warning was issued to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and the two other architects of upcoming energy and climate legislation.

It highlights the balancing act Kerry and his allies face as they try to craft legislation that can attract industry and GOP backing without hemorrhaging support among liberals and environmentalists.

Wider drilling is part of the compromise bill that Kerry and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are drafting and hope to bring to the Senate floor this year.

The coastal Democrats, in a letter to the three this week, laud the effort to write a climate bill, noting their states are at risk from sea level rise, but say a major expansion of offshore drilling will cause them to drop their support.

“But 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,” the 10 Democrats wrote.

The letter is signed by Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson (Fla.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Ted Kaufman (Del.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Jack Reed (R.I.).

The March 23 letter cites environmental risks from spills. The senators also fear that development could impede military training activities.

The 10 Democrats do not provide specifics about the degree of offshore drilling expansion that would cause them to withhold support for the climate and energy bill, and Kerry, Graham and Lieberman have not yet released bill text. But Graham and lawmakers who have been briefed on the nascent plan say it gives coastal states discretion over the extent of development off their shores.

The letter says that any level of increased access must be coupled with leasing reforms that push companies to develop areas already under lease before new regions are opened.