Environmental groups condemn ocean drilling in climate bill as ‘unacceptable’

Environmental groups want language encouraging offshore drilling removed from climate legislation in light of the giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that poses a potentially historic hazard to fragile coastal ecosystems.

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are thought to have included language to encourage an expansion of offshore drilling in their climate bill to attract support from businesses and centrists in Congress.

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That left environmental groups facing a difficult choice: whether to accept the drilling provisions and the risks to habitats in return for a long-sought cap on carbon to reduce the risks of climate change. 

As the environmental threat of the disaster grows by the day, green groups have become more explicit in demanding that any drilling provisions be removed from the bill. 



“Expanding exploration and drilling into previously protected and remote areas is unacceptable when it is clear that we are not capable of responding to oil spills in a timely manner,” several dozen groups wrote senators on Monday. 

“Provisions creating new incentives (such as state revenue sharing) or reduced safeguards for expanded offshore drilling are simply not acceptable.”

The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, National Audubon Society and others signed the letter.

Environmental advocates hope the oil crisis in the Gulf will lead lawmakers to provide stronger incentives for renewable energy and conservation programs to reduce the importance of fossil fuels and shift climate legislation that had been on a rightward track back to the left. 

Mike Gravitz, oceans advocate for Environment America, which opposes expanding offshore drilling, said some environmental groups had been willing to accept new drilling provisions in the climate change bill.

“There was some difference of opinion on the issue,” Gravitz said. “I think the community is coming around to the point of view that expanded drilling doesn’t have a place in a climate bill.”

“Right now this is an endless oil disaster, and any energy bill needs to leave room to respond to developments,” said Jeremy Symons, a vice president of the National Wildlife Federation.

“The question is whether they modify the bill to reflect what is a truly horrific disaster,” said another supporter of the climate legislation who asked not to be identified.

Climate legislation was thought to face long odds before the oil disaster. The hurdles included the withdrawal of support from Graham, who was angered that Senate Democratic leaders also were planning to push a sweeping immigration reform bill, which he said was a political ploy to attract Hispanic voters to the party.

Graham had been thought to be the main backer of the offshore drilling provisions. The bill has not been released, but it was expected to include language that would give states a larger share of the royalties from oil drilling, an inducement for state legislatures to provide access off their coasts.

Now, environmental advocates hope there will be new momentum to move the bill back to the left and de-emphasize some provisions intended to encourage further production of fossil fuels.

“This creates an atmosphere where people can see another risk of our dependence on oil,” said Daniel Weiss, a climate change expert at the Center of American Progress Action Fund. “There have been terrible human costs as well as the huge economic consequences for coastal communities.”

The oil spill was caused by a fire and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig leased by BP. Eleven workers are thought to have been killed in the blast.