BP Oil Spill Complicates Obama's Clean Energy Push

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One year after the largest oil spill in the nation's history began unfolding along the Gulf Coast, George Moorman of Lucedale, Miss., says he and hundreds of other former BP sub-contractors hired to clean up the mess continue to suffer from its consequences.

"It's horrible down there, still," Moorman, 52, told ABC News as he took part in a protest Monday outside the White House. He said oil continues to wash ashore along with dead wildlife, and that the workers who toiled in 100-degree heat for months last summer have become sick after inhaling the toxic fumes.

"We're not here to get a check. We're here to get it right," he said.

The refrain has become a common one for victims of the spill and eco-activists who say the Obama administration and Congress have failed to keep their promises of tougher environmental regulation and new policies to wean the country from its addiction to oil.

There has been no major legislative action on the environment in the past year, despite Obama's calls to curtail offshore drilling and promote ambitious new goals for clean energy.

The House passed the Waxman-Markey energy bill in 2009, which would among other things, cap emissions and increase energy efficiency in buildings, home appliances and power plants. But Democrats failed in several attempts to move similar legislation in the Senate, and with the Republican takeover of the House, prospects now seem even dimmer.

"I think the type of legislation that we saw pass the House of Representatives is not in the cards for at least the next two to three years," said Trevor Houser, visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former senior adviser to the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change. "There is room for smaller bite-size energy legislation -- renewable energy standards, incentives for natural gas, electrification of vehicle fleet... But the big all-encompassing pieces are not being considered."

Louisiana Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter introduced a bill last week that would direct 80 percent of the penalties BP pays under the Clean Water Act toward restoring the coastal ecosystem and the region's economy. Landrieu and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, plan to introduce another bill that would lift the cap on liability for offshore oil spills.

But for many, the piecemeal approach is not enough. And they blame the White House for not taking a more aggressive stance.

"Congress is subsidizing BP with billions of dollars," said Courtney Hight, executive director of the Energy Action Coalition and a former organizer for the Obama campaign. "We need President Obama to stand with us, stand against polluters and make them pay."

Hight and other activists have accused the administration of being too friendly to major American energy companies, citing the inclusion of so-called clean coal, natural gas and nuclear power under the umbrella of a "clean energy" plan Obama rolled out last month.

They're also frustrated the administration is siding with major energy companies in a major Supreme Court case brought by environmental groups seeking the ability to sue over pollution levels. The Obama administration wants the Environmental Protection Agency, not the courts, to retain regulatory power.

"When he was running for office, he said it was the community that was going to have to hold him accountable," said Shauen Pearce of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a progressive advocacy group. "Well, that's what we're doing."

Congress is just as much to blame, others say. Though they cut $38 billion from the federal budget in a deal passed last week, lawmakers spared subsidies for oil and gas companies.

"I'm very disappointed. I feel as if Congress is turning their backs on the people in the Gulf," said Regan Nelson, senior oceans advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Congress had over 50 hearings [but] as soon as the wells were plugged and cameras went away, you saw a decline in interest in Congress."

The Republican takeover of the House has complicated the formula further. With gas prices surging, Republicans say offshore oil drilling is needed to alleviate price pressure.

Next week, the House Natural Resources Committee will debate three bills that seek to boost offshore oil drilling on the Gulf coast and reverse the moratorium imposed by Obama last year. The bills, they argue, will help create more jobs and cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Despite the BP oil spill and its effects, Americans hold a generally favorable view of offshore drilling, according to a Gallup poll released last month. Of those polled, six in 10 favored increasing offshore drilling for oil and gas in U.S. coastal areas, up from 50 percent in May 2010. The same poll found 49 percent of Americans in favor of opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration, the highest level of support Gallup has recorded for drilling in ANWR since it first posed the question in 2002.