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Reid Delays Vote on Oil Spill Until September at Earliest

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced another delay on an oil spill response bill Tuesday. (Pete Marovich/ZUMApress.com)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced today that he will not hold a floor vote on an energy and oil spill response bill this week, the latest delay in a months-long effort to pass legislation to address the massive disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and reform the way the country uses energy. With the delay, the package cannot be considered until Congress returns in September from its summer recess.

“Since Republicans refuse to move forward with any meaningful debate, we will postpone tomorrow’s votes on energy until after the recess,” Reid told reporters in the Capitol today. “In the interim, we will continue to work to get Republican votes for a strong bill that holds BP accountable, creates jobs, lowers costs and protects the environment.”

[Environment1] Republicans stood together to oppose the legislation and some Democrats raised issues with the bill as well, making it impossible to find the 60 votes necessary to overcome a GOP filibuster and move the package forward to an up-or-down vote.

At the center of the opposition is a provision in the bill that would remove the $75 million cap on a company’s economic liability in the event of a spill. Republicans, as well as oil state lawmakers like Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), argue that small- and medium-sized companies will not be able to drill in the Gulf of Mexico if they are held liable for all of the economic damages related to an oil spill. They say that such a provision would hurt the economy and drive offshore drilling and the jobs that go with it overseas, where regulations are less stringent.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) had been working behind the scenes to try to come to a compromise on the language, which he authored. But it appears that his efforts did not yield the votes necessary to pass a bill before the recess. Menendez worked to win the votes of Begich and Landrieu, as well as moderate Republicans. A Senate aide familiar with the discussions told TWI yesterday that Menendez was willing “to listen” to the lawmakers that oppose his liability language, but would not budge on removing the cap entirely.

Environmentalists were again disappointed by Reid’s decision, though they note privately that they were not surprised by the delay. It’s the latest frustration for environmentalists, who, over the last several months, have seen their hopes for an economy-wide cap-and-trade program, a scaled-down utility-only cap on carbon emissions and a renewable energy mandate dashed.

Athan Manuel, director of lands protection for Sierra Club, said the delay was more of the same. “It’s just the same old, same old. The Republicans don’t want to cross the aisle to work with the Democrats. Neither side seems to be that motivated to get something done by the recess,” he said.

A second environmentalist, who asked for anonymity to discuss the issue, said part of the reason a vote on the bill was delayed is because Democrats feared facing their constituents during the recess. “There’s a lot of fatigue and some folks are worried about what’s going to happen when they go home,” the environmentalist said.

Some Democrats worried that the oil spill response bill would be cast by Republicans as a gas tax, a tactic that has worked in previous summer months when gas prices tend to be higher, the source said. But such an assertion is ludicrous because gas prices are set on the world market and would not increase based on passage of the legislation, the environmentalist said.

Republicans, for their part, have jumped on the delay to underscore what they are categorizing as a schism in the Democratic caucus. Robert Dillon, spokesperson for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), said in an e-mail, “The truth is Republicans offered a better alternative that was attracting Democratic support, so the majority leader pulled his bill rather than be embarrassed by a vote in favor of the Republican bill.”

In addition to the language on oil spill liability, Reid’s bill includes provisions to restructure the now-defunct Minerals Management Service, which was in charge of permitting offshore oil and gas drilling; require the use of new technologies in offshore wells; and provide incentives for home energy efficiency retrofits, among other things.

This post has been updated with additional information.

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