Sunday, June 27, 2010

GOP plans defense to Dem effort to link spill to climate

Senate Republicans are plotting their defense strategy as Dems try to agree on how to pursue climate and energy legislation, in advance of a bi-partisan meeting with President Obama Tuesday.

The White House meet was postponed from last week because of the Gen. McChrystal flap.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week pulled together Republicans invited to that meeting to make sure they hold together under pressure to sign on to a climate bill. He told them to focus on the Gulf oil spill, and not tie it to climate change, as Dems want. And he warned any bill with an “energy tax” (cap-and-trade) would go nowhere.

Meanwhile Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) held two caucus meetings, the second of which was praised as “inspirational” by attendees, yet was unable to find common ground on how strong and comprehensive an energy bill should be.

Polluters should pay
Dems agreed to emphasize “polluters pay” in their bill and Reid said there should also be millions of new jobs, a cut in pollution and energy independence. But they didn’t get much further than that.

Alternatives range from the comprehensive Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act based on cap-and-trade, to a weaker version that just regulates utility companies, to an energy-only bill without any price on carbon, to a very weak bill energy bill from Richard Lugar (R-Ind.).

The problem is getting all Dems onboard and picking up at least one Republican. Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) is seen as a possible vote for linking clean energy to the spill.

But it may be difficult to get the support of all Dems. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said he wants to focus on suspending the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases and pushing for clean coal – not exactly what most other Dems have in mind.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has suggested that a diverse panel of about 10 Democrats try to hammer out compromise legislation they think can get 60 votes.

But there’s not much time to act. Just one week between now and the Fourth of July and then 25 days until the August recess. After that elections will dominate.

And it won’t necessarily be easy to reach agreement on the other part of the bill – reforming offshore drilling regulations. Lifting the liability cap is already controversial.

(Sources: ClimateWire, E&E Daily, E&E News PM)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Obama and Dem leaders will push next week to firm up a climate strategy; but will a price on carbon be part of it?

Will there be a price on carbon? That seems to be the most important question, but it's certainly not the only one about upcoming climate legislation in the Senate.

As Obama invites a bi-partisan group of Senators to share ideas at the White House next week, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reconvenes the Democratic caucus to discuss proposals presented in a one-hour closed-door meeting last week, cap and trade (or some other price on carbon) seems the most controversial piece of the puzzle.

How to get to 60
Republicans voted in lockstep for the Murkowski resolution to block EPA regulation of greenhouse gases (and were joined by 6 Democrats).

So it seems likely they will hold together to vote “no” on cap and trade, or any legislation that’s tough on fossil fuels. With elections close at hand they may just say “no” to block Obama.

Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who worked for months with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has deserted his friends in the enemy camp and is now backing fellow Republican Richard Lugar’s (Ind.) bill. So that might have a chance to get to the 60 votes needed. But it’s very weak, focusing on energy efficiency, nuclear power and retiring a few of the oldest, dirtiest coal-powered plants.

Another possibility for Republican support is the Cantwell-Collins “cap and dividend bill.” GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Me.) is one of the sponsors and might bring along a couple of fellow New Englanders. It would return 75% of revenues from allowances to the people. But anything with “cap” seems to be politically toxic.

And we certainly can’t depend on oil-patch Democrats, who we’ve seen are still clamoring for increased offshore drilling. In fact, without immediate state revenue-sharing of offshore drilling, Mary Landieu (D-La.) says she’ll work to stop a bill. And then there are coal-state Dems like Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). He's unlikely to vote for anything that hurts his state’s economy.

The benefits of Kerry-Lieberman
Although it’s not all we might wish, Kerry-Lieberman’s American Power Act, which is built on cap-and-trade (17% below 2005 levels by 2020), seems by far the best Senate bill out there. It would actually DO something and aims for an 83% cut in GHG by 2050. An EPA analysis puts the cost per family at less than a postage stamp a day. A Peterson Institute study says it will unleash 200,000 new jobs a year 2011-2020. And a ClimateWorks Foundation study ups the jobs to half a million a year until 2030.

Rationally, this is the best bill hands down. And it has the support of many big businesses, like GE, Honeywell and Dow Chemical. But who’s rational? Certainly not the Senate a few months before midterm elections.

So conventional wisdom is that Jeff Bingaman’s (D-N.M.) bill that passed the Energy Committee last year and would establish a renewable electricity standard, will be the platform to which other items would be attached. Kerry-Lieberman could be introduced as an amendment (though they are still fighting to take the lead) -- and will probably fail to get 60 votes.

Possible health reform redux
Meanwhile the idea is out there that the strategy might be to pass the best bill possible, then go to reconciliation with the House, which you may have forgotten passed a comprehensive cap-and-trade bill last year. And they could work cap-and-trade into the final result. The votes might be there for passage of such a final bill in the lame-duck session. Especially if majority rules.

That would be cool. But we’ll have to see how it plays out.

Getting anything through the Senate will be hard because this bill will also contain response to the oil spill, like greatly increasing the oil tax for the Spill Response Trust Fund, eliminating the liability cap of $75 million and tightening safety regulations. While most of the country will be all for that, some oil-state Senators will no doubt tout the industry line.

Senators everywhere need to hear from the public, which is way ahead of them on this one.

Call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and tell your Senators you want a comprehensive climate bill with a price on carbon passed this year.

(Sources: E&E Daily, E&ENewsPM, ClimateWire, The Hill)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Just who does the six-month moratorium stop from drilling?

(Photo of Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the accident from Flickr and photographerTravellingSteve)

As Gulf Coast lawmakers push for an end to the 6-month moratorium on deepwater drilling, and BP sets up a $100M fund for unemployed oil workers, many are still confused about which drilling is affected by the shutdown. Is it just for new wells or is it everyone drilling in deepwater? Neither.

When Obama announced the stoppage on May 27, he made clear it was for deepwater Gulf drilling (more than 500 feet beneath the sea) and would apply to any new permits as well as the 33 rigs that were doing exploratory drilling but not yet producing.

The 591 producing deepwater wells could continue their operations.

He also postponed new drilling off Alaska for this summer and cancelled lease sales until more was known about the Deepwater Horizon accident and lessons learned from the catastrophic explosion and continuing leak.

Yet the oil and gas industry and Gulf Coast lawmakers are so concerned about the economic impact of the shutdown they want to ban the ban. Sen. Mary Landieu (D-La.) told Larry King she is worried oil companies will pull up stakes and go elsewhere in the world, even if they’ve already sunk millions into exploration here. Those companies include Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and Australia-based BHP Billiton.

(Which reminds me: the oil is ours but the companies drilling are often multinational and based somewhere else. This whole “reduce dependence on foreign oil” thing is a crock. What they mean is Middle Eastern, Chinese or Venezuelan oil – from our “enemies.” They just don’t want to put it that way.)

Worries about lost oil jobs and income
But getting back to the moratorium. In addition to putting the oil companies on hiatus, it affects the drilling rigs owned and operated by a whole other set of companies: Transocean, Halliburton, Slumberger, etc., who are paid about a half-million dollars a day per rig. So they’ll lose income.

The American Petroleum Institute, which is the main oil and gas trade group, estimates 46,000 jobs will be lost short term. In addition to rig workers, suppliers, divers and others will be affected.

Oil and gas makes up 16% of the Louisiana economy, according to the Energy Tomorrow blog. Yet it strikes me as schizophrenic the way Gulf Coast official rail about the damage being done to their waters, coastline and businesses, then turn around and say “let’s do more of this.”

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and U.S. Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) have introduced bills in the Senate and House to end the moratorium.

And Interior Sec. Ken Salazar met yesterday with a bipartisan group of about two dozen congressmen and senators on The Hill to hear their pleas, but he gave no assurance the ban could be shortened.

Salazar said the moratorium stands unless new information indicates it should be lifted. Good for him.

Meanwhile, the commission report is due in November. Seems a long time to wait? Well the relief wells won’t be ready to stop the damn leak until late August, at best. So it's a slow process all the way around.

We need to be careful not to rush back to deepwater drilling just because of lost oil industry jobs. Some think we should never go back until the technology of fixing problems catches up with the technology of getting oil out of the ground. Too much is at stake.

And let's keep in mind that only about 5% of the deepwater rigs have been shut down (and they have not yet found oil) -- while all of the 4,515 shallow water wells in the gulf are still pumping. What is all the whining about?

(Sources: E&E Daily, Greenwire, E&E News PM, Energy Tomorrow blog)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Too little is known about risks to Gulf oil spill cleanup workers

(Picture of contract worker in the Gulf handling boom from Flickr and BP)

Too little is known about the health impacts on Gulf cleanup workers.

We know some workers (close to 100) have felt sick: with headaches, dizziness, scratchy throats, nausea or coughs.

We know that OSHA has warned that cleanup workers in the Gulf face dangers from oil byproducts, chemical dispersants, heat, snakebites and drowning.

We know burning of oil can release particulates and benzene. The latter, a known carcinogen, causes dizziness, and irregular heartbeat, unconsciousness and even death. BP is starting to burn up to 10,000 barrels a day.

We know many cleanup workers from Exxon Valdez developed serious lingering health problems.

We know Gulf workers get hazmat training and are required to wear protective gloves and shoe covering – but not respirators (OSHA has said they aren’t needed unless there’s a toxic chemical threat).

We know BP is monitoring air quality and so far says health risks are “very low.” Should we believe them? The company says it has a team of 100 testing in the area and that all results are within OSHA’s safe exposure limits. OSHA's acceptable limits for benzene are more lax than CDC’s, however.

We know the insurance industry is expecting plenty of worker compensation claims because so many workers and volunteers (about 22,000 so far) are working with toxic substances.

We know the CDC sent two teams to the Gulf last week to test chemical exposure for those handling booms and burning oil.

But we don’t really know yet if workers need more protection. And what about fishermen and others working on or near the sea?

Congressional response
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who is involved with thousands of workers from 9/11 who went unprotected and have some serious health problems as a result, told Congress this week to beware of long-term consequences. She said OSHA should monitor for health effects independent of BP and the Coast Guard, who are running the cleanup.

A group of scientists says the 1976 Toxic Substance Control Act need to be updated, to make sure substances like Corexit (more than 1 million gallons have been sprayed in the Gulf) are thoroughly vetted before they are used.

Bills have been introduced, in the Senate by Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and the House by Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), to make manufacturers transparent about ingredients rather than putting the burden of proof on the EPA.

Lawmakers also want to know what was in the heavy drilling mud used in “top kill” as well as chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing for shale gas drilling.

In the case of dispersant Corexit, the EPA did release its contents. But usually manufacturers won't allow that, claiming it's "confidential business information."

We still have a long way to go to know the extent of workers' exposure in the Gulf and how to best protect them. Add that to how to stop the flow, how to protect the shoreline, how to make sure BP pays for damages …..

(Sources: E&E Daily, Greenwire, Business Insurance, CBS News, Firedoglake,,

Sunday, June 13, 2010

New House bill would amend or repeal ancient laws that could let BP, Transocean off the liability hook

Archaic laws protect BP, Transocean and others from full liability in the Great Gulf Oil Spill of 2010. So U.S. Rep. John Conyers (R-Mich.) introduced a bill Friday to amend those laws.

HR 5503 (The SPILL Bill) would amend the 90-year-old Death on the High Seas Act and Jones Act, so that families of the 11 workers killed in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion could sue for non-pecuniary damages (such as pain and suffering).

Further, the bill would strengthen bankruptcy rules to make it harder for BP to spin off part of its company responsible for the ruptured well and have that piece declare bankruptcy to avoid financial liability. Some are concerned that as costs mount the company might use bankruptcy to avoid payment.

The bill also would repeal a 160-year-old law that limits the liability of vessel owners to the value of the vessel and its cargo. Transocean lawyers had at one point planned to use this to limit the company's liability, but backed away because of objections from the Justice Department.

Finally, the bill would give states affected by the spill the power to pursue legal redress against BP and others responsible in their own courts.

“We should not allow reckless corporations to use 19th century laws to shortchange their victims,” Conyers said in a statement.

The bill is co-sponsored by 11 other representatives, including Charles Melancon (D-La.).

(Source: E&E Daily,

Saturday, June 12, 2010

BP has plan to capture more oil this summer, but who has plan to clean up?

(Photo of cleanup from Flickr and BP_America)

BP will bring in four large tanker ships to increase oil production from the gushing well head in the Gulf to 50,000 barrels/day from the current 15,000 barrels/day, Adm. Thad Allen said yesterday. These ships, however, will take several weeks to get here. One is coming from the North Sea. Two have not yet been selected.

When they are in place, the company hopes to replace the containment cap at the bottom of the sea with a “hard cap” and flexible mooring so the ships can be detached in case of a hurricane and then reattached.

While waiting for the large tankers, BP is calling two smaller ships into duty, probably the end of next week, to bring the capacity up to as much as 38,000 barrels a day.

The problem, of course, is no one knows what the flow rate is. The most recent government estimate was 40,000-50,000 barrels, but that was based on data before the broken riser was cut. No one knows for sure how much that increased the flow, but some have guessed as it’s now much as 100,000.

And every barrel not captured is going into the Gulf.

The ultimate solution will come in mid-August or later, when a relief well will allow the gushing well to be cemented and stopped.

As BP salvages some oil it can profit from, and seems to be making strides toward salvaging more, critics are upset with the hodgepodge of cleanup plans as more and more oil reaches shore. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who visited the area, says the booms put out to stop the oil are not well tended and therefore not working well. And the number of skimmers are insufficient.

Each state and locality is lobbying for help from either BP or the federal government (or both) but delays are long and frustrating as the oil keeps moving ashore.

There’s also the whole issue of oil and gas under the water and the damage it can do – as well as ill effects from the dispersant used to break it up and keep it below the surface.

It’s now (past) time to focus on the cleanup and make a comprehensive and effective plan to deal with that. And someone needs to be clearly in charge.

(Sources include: Greenwire, CBS News, Rachel Maddow Show MSNBC)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Infusion of gas and oil into Gulf unlike anything in human history, researcher says

Methane 10,000 times normal has been detected in underwater concentrations of oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico, researchers from the University of South Florida said Tuesday.

And two federal agencies, NOAA and the Coast Guard, confirmed that yes, there are underwater clouds of oil and gas in the Gulf.

BP CEO Tony Hayward had questioned earlier if such “plumes” existed. Thad Allen, Coast Guard point man for the spill response, said “clouds” would be a better term.

USF researchers, who spent two week on the ship F.G. Walton Smith, told reporters they followed an underwater plume 15 miles by 3 miles and 600 feet thick.

"It's an infusion of oil and gas unlike anything else that has ever been seen anywhere, certainly in human history," said Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia, the expedition leader.

Bacteria feeding on the oil and gas have depleted oxygen to the point there were nearly “dead zones.” But researchers said it was hard to know the ultimate impact on fisheries.

Oil and gas in an area tested 40 miles northeast of the Deepwater Horizon well head showed small levels of 0.5 parts per million, NOAA said. Two other areas tested by USF showed inconclusive results and no certain connection to the BP oil spill.

The research will continue, NOAA said. The researchers are to testify Wednesday before the House Energy Committee.

(Sources: Greenwire. MSNBC and CNN)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Reid to use spill to fashion new energy and climate bill

(Photo of Harry Reid from Flickr and talkradionews.)

The Great Gulf Oil Spill of 2010 should make it easier to pass climate legislation to get us off fossil fuels, now that we’ve seen the damage deepwater drilling can do. Right?

Not necessarily. Pundits have been saying the Kerry-Lieberman bill will lose the possibility of any GOP support if it backs away from more offshore drilling, and it will lose Dem support if it encourages it. The lines have hardened.

So how can Dem leadership improve its chances of passing a climate and clean energy bill before the November elections, when Republicans are sure to pick up more seats?

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has had an “aha moment.” He’s going to turn this into a Spill Bill, with emphasis on holding oil companies accountable and reducing their tax breaks. With public concern about the spill running high, detractors would have more trouble voting against such a bill, he reasons.

Last week Reid sent a memo to eight committee chairmen with a role in climate and energy, asking them to put forth ideas about how to make oil drilling safer, make the companies pay for damage they cause and reduce some of the tax breaks they gained over the past decade.

Reid wants to bring a bill to the floor in July. Whether it will be a combination of oil spill and Kerry-Lieberman or oil spill and energy-only (no cap, no trade, no carbon limit) is still to be determined.

President Obama voiced his support for a comprehensive bill of the Kerry-Lieberman variety last week, but he may have to settle for less.

Reid will meet with the relevant committee chairs next Thursday to talk about how to proceed.

However they shape it, a climate/clean energy bill is going to be hard to pass before November.

My guess is they’ll end up with a Spill Bill that also encourages clean energy (perhaps with a renewable electricity standard) and other incentives to produce and use clean energy – and probably nuclear power. That may be the only way to get 60 votes, and even that will be hard.

Big Oil still has many supporters. Witness calls from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to drill off their coasts, because their economies depend on it.

Stay tuned.

(Sources: Mother Jones, Politico, E&E News PM, Climate Progress)

Friday, June 04, 2010

Cheney task force set the stage for Great Gulf Oil Spill of 2010

(Photo of Dick Cheney from Flickr and talkradionews.)

How did we get to this point, where Big Oil pretty much calls its own shots, ignoring the environmental and economic consequences of what it does?

You can blame Dick Cheney. And George Bush. And Dick Armey (then majority leader of the House, now head of the Tea Party) and Tom DeLay and a bunch of other powerful pols with oil funding and oil ties.

Former VP Cheney’s National Energy Policy Tax Force and the subsequent Energy Policy Act of 2005 set the stage for the extreme pro-oil policies and self-regulation that has now led to BP’s Great Gulf Oil Spill of 2010.

Cheney always rejected efforts to reveal the machinations of the energy task force, but the subsequent legislation closely followed many of the points in the task force’s National Energy Policy Report.

Among those points:

• New authority to the Dept. of Interior to permit new drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf without adequate oversight.
• $2 billion in subsidies to encourage drilling in “ultra deepwater.”
• Tens of billions in subsidies for oil and other forms of dirty energy.
• Weakening of states’ say over drilling off their shores.
• Expansion of circumstances to waive environmental reviews.

Two excellent posts, by Climate Progress and The Center for American Progress go into much more detail about the impact of having two oil men in the White House and Texas oil-linked leadership in the House between 2001-2005. They’re definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

BP, other Big Oil said they had technology to stop blowouts

(Image of "top hat" attempt to stem oil flow from Flickr and Mick Licht,

BP and other drilling companies in the Gulf assured the Minerals Management Service – in writing – that they had the “proven equipment and technology” to handle deepwater oil spills like the one we’re seeing now.

They didn’t describe what that technology was and MMS didn’t ask. Top hat? Junk shot?

Most of the 36 deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf got approval by giving the same assurances, according to a Greenwire analysis of MMS records. Nearly all plans said they could handle a “worst case scenario” which BP defined as 162,000 barrels a day, far more than the estimated 12,000 to 25,000 a day of this spill.

Seven plans had identical wording: "In the event of an unanticipated blowout resulting in an oil spill, it is unlikely to have an impact based on the industry wide standards for using proven equipment and technology for such responses."

Many of the companies said because of their “response capabilities” even a major spill would cause no major damage.

Now we know otherwise.

Last week President Obama suspended 33 deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf.

Some members of the Senate Environment Committee have asked for a criminal investigation of BP’s alleged “false statements,” which might also lead to looking at other drilling companies making similar assurances, including Exxon and Marathon Oil.

(Source: Greenwire)