Lieberman: Offshore drilling in climate bill getting a ‘second look’

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), a chief architect of the upcoming Senate climate and energy bill, said Thursday that offshore oil-and-gas drilling provisions in the measure are getting a “second look.”

Lieberman and co-author Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) are under pressure from some coastal-state Democrats and environmentalists to revise or drop drilling language in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

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“It is getting a second look,” Lieberman told reporters in the Capitol. “The rest of the bill is pretty much wrapped up.” Kerry and Lieberman hope to unveil the bill next week.

Lieberman did not provide specifics on what changes may be afoot.

He said the bill retains a plan to promote development by providing states with drilling in newly opened areas off their shores a share of the leasing and royalty revenue. But it also gives states the ability to block leasing within 75 miles of their shores, Lieberman said.

“I think the bill, when it reaches the floor, will still have a section that will call for development of domestic energy resources as we transition to a clean-energy economy,” Lieberman said. “And it will have a buffer zone that we have been talking about, and state revenue-sharing.”

Lieberman, Kerry and co-author Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have long been crafting a bill that would blend greenhouse gas emissions caps with measures to expand nuclear power and domestic oil-and-gas production.

But the oil spill has given anti-drilling lawmakers new political power to seek protections and attack White House plans to allow drilling in once-restricted areas — including the Atlantic Coast.

“I think that we are making progress on the concerns that I have expressed and Sens. Lautenberg and Menendez and Mikulski have expressed,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) of negotiations on the energy bill, referring to New Jersey Democrats Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez and Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D).

“I am hopeful that we will have protections in the bill against the type of drilling that could affect the Maryland coast,” Cardin added.

Kerry also hinted that the oil spill could lead to changes. “Clearly there are implications. How we process them is key and we are doing it in a sensible, thoughtful way,” he told reporters.

Lieberman indicated this week that he and Kerry are willing to roll out the measure without Graham, who last month suspended his backing for trying to push the measure through the Senate. 

Graham is furious that Democratic leaders plan to push immigration legislation this year, claiming it will spark a divisive political battle that will sink prospects for the climate and energy measure.

Lieberman and Kerry have emphasized, however, that Graham supports the substance of the legislation. Kerry said Wednesday that Graham is “standing by the work product and he is standing by the bill, no matter what.”