Republicans Accuse Obama of Trying to 'Exploit' Oil Spill to Pass Climate Legislation

President Obama has made clear that he sees the BP oil spill as a way to breathe new life into efforts to pass climate and energy legislation aimed at reducing the use of carbon fuels such as oil and coal. But Republicans are launching a pre-emptive strike, saying an oil spill is not a good reason to tax all forms of energy.

"The president is trying to exploit this disaster to pass his national energy tax. Stop exploiting this disaster to pass this cap-and-trade tax," Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., said.

The congressman was referring to the "cap-and-trade" legislation that Democrats have been trying to push through Congress since last year. After the House approved a version of the bill last June, the Senate has been sitting on the proposal while other issues like health care and financial regulation moved to the front of the legislative line.

Now that the BP oil spill has focused national attention on the potential negative effects of offshore drilling, Republicans say Obama will use it to his political advantage.

"Never has a mission statement fit an administration as perfectly as Rahm Emanuel's 'never allow a crisis to go to waste.' Climate change policy is important, but first things first," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, describing the energy bill as a tax on everyone that would "do nothing" to stop the leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Somehow he thinks he can use the tragedy in the Gulf as a reason to pass cap-and-trade," said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. "There is no relationship between the oil spill and cap-and-trade."

The climate bill most likely to pass the Senate is one sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Kerry, D-Mass. They said on Tuesday that their bill will save energy and create jobs.

"It will create 440,000 additional jobs annually through 2020 and 540,000 additional jobs through 2030," Kerry said.

Lieberman said one analysis shows the plan would save 2 million barrels of oil a day by 2030 -- in part by getting heavy trucks to run on natural gas. He said that inaction at this point would lead to sustained dependence on oil and "risk repetition of what's happening in the Gulf today."

But critics are extremely skeptical about both claims. Previous assessments of cap-and-trade bills warned of job losses, and analysts say savings in oil are hard to come by:

"In automobiles, at least in the short run, next 10 years or so, it's very difficult to switch from one energy source to another," said David Kreutzer, research fellow for energy economics and climate change with the Heritage Foundation. He said the climate legislation and its mandate to cut emissions would end up hurting the country's coal industry "dramatically."

Fox News' Jim Angle contributed to this report.