Lieberman defends drilling measures in climate bill, but Durbin acknowledges differences within caucus

Asked if the spill would cause a change in the bill, Lieberman replied, “I don’t think so, certainly not to lead us to remove it.”

The compromise climate and energy measure he has crafted with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has been expected to contain measures that promote expanded offshore development.

That includes provisions that would give more coastal states a share of leasing and royalty revenue as inducement to back drilling in federal waters off their shores.

But Lieberman also noted that the measure would provide more protections than current law. Offshore drilling bans covering the Atlantic and Pacific coasts lapsed in 2008, meaning that most federal waters are in theory open for leasing, although much of the eastern Gulf of Mexico remains off-limits.

Lieberman said the bill would block drilling within 75 miles of state shores. He didn’t elaborate, but his comments could be a reference to measures in past outlines of the bill that would give coastal states discretion over the level of leasing off their shores.

One idea reportedly discussed in briefings on the plan several weeks ago would not allow drilling within 35 miles of state shores unless the states agreed to it, while it would be allowed in the 35-75 mile range unless states formally objected.

Kerry held a briefing in the Capitol early Tuesday afternoon for a number of Democratic senators to provide an update on the climate and energy bill, which has not been unveiled.

“The Senate and even our caucus goes in different directions on the drilling question,” Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters after he exited the meeting. “With the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it is front and center and may be a major element in this debate.”

Durbin suggested the spill has weakened the hand of drilling advocates.

“For the drill-baby-drill crowd, the notion was, man, if we could just drill in ANWR and offshore, we wouldn’t be so dependent on foreign oil and wouldn’t have to waste our time with all these renewable investments,” Durbin said.

“I think there is now a serious question in people’s minds as to whether or not offshore drilling is the kind of investment that is completely easy and fault-free. There is some skepticism about that approach,” he added.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said after leaving the briefing that the legislation could include new offshore rig safety measures.

“We are going to need to have, obviously, safer ways to do these things, redundant systems that would kick in in case of failure. I think there is room here to work that in,” she said.

Durbin said he would not be surprised to see offshore safety-related amendments to the Wall Street reform bill that’s on the Senate floor, although he cautioned he was not personally aware of such efforts.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said he did not believe the Gulf of Mexico spill has had a major effect on the political dynamics of the climate and energy bill.

“I didn’t see a lot of Republicans jumping on board when Obama said we should drill more,” he said, referring to President Barack Obama’s late March decision to allow expanded offshore leasing in the future.