Will Senate Energy Bill Dampen Environmentalists' Momentum?

Senate energy bill could halt environmental groups' momentum from BP oil spill.

ByABC News
May 12, 2010, 5:33 PM

May 13, 2010— -- Environmental groups ramped up lobbying and fundraising efforts against offshore oil drilling following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but a new Senate energy bill threatens to dampen that momentum amid complaints that it doesn't go far enough to oppose Big Oil.

The energy and climate bill released Tuesday by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., includes new provisions for offshore oil drilling -- initially added to attract GOP support -- and also offers incentives to create more nuclear power plants and expand coal production.

The legislation seeks to reduce carbon pollution by 17 percent in 2020 and by more than 80 percent in 2050.

It authorizes revenue sharing from offshore oil drilling in areas that are currently withdrawn from leasing, and calls for the Department of Interior secretary to study the environmental and economic impact of potential oil spills in areas that are available for revenue sharing, to determine whether the lease can occur.

Sponsors of the bill said they took the BP oil spill into account and added a provision that allows any state to enact a law prohibiting leasing within 75 miles of its coastline.

"This is a vote for clean energy after a devastating oil spill," Kerry said at a news conference Tuesday, flanked by Lieberman and executives from environmental groups and energy companies. "This is a vote for billions of dollars for the next generation of jobs in clean coal and safe nuclear power. This is a vote to end America's addiction to foreign oil and to safeguard the air that our children breathe and the water that they drink. This should be an easy vote."

In reality, however, getting the votes may not be such an easy task. It's not just Republicans who are opposing it -- the original co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., shot out a press release Tuesday saying bipartisanship on the bill would be "extremely difficult" -- but environmental groups that pay heavily to Democrats' campaign coffers also are outraged.

"This is probably the worst rendition of a climate bill that we've seen in Congress," Kyle Ash, senior legislation representative for environmental group Greenpeace, told ABC News. "I think it's very debatable to say it's the first step."

Greenpeace advocates for a complete moratorium on offshore oil drilling -- a measure some energy experts and lawmakers say is unrealistic because it will unravel the American economy. Ash also argues that the bill doesn't do enough to invest in renewable energy or set strong emissions targets for 2020.

"We need to phase into a different type of energy infrastructure," he said, adding that the bill is "worse than the status quo."

Other environmental groups say the bill is a step in the right direction, but that many of its parts still need to be improved.

"You can see that the legislation has more controls on offshore drilling now than was being contemplated a month ago in the draft," said Wesley Warren, director of programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "I think it's a big step forward in the process in terms of us being able to get legislation on the table ... but as we move forward, we not only want to move forward but [also want to move] in the right direction."

Green groups have gained considerable grassroots momentum since the BP oil spill. Armed with pictures of dead marine life and a polluted sea, environmentalists have upped their rhetoric against offshore oil drilling, using BP as an example to show how it can be dangerous both to people who work on rigs and to the nation's waters.

The activist group Sierra Club said visits to its website hit record highs following the spill last month.

Non-profit group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, said its Facebook community has grown by 19 percent in a month.