WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid unveiled a draft of energy and oil spill legislation Tuesday, having to settle for a far less sweeping bill than the cap on carbon emissions he had hoped for.
Reid, D-Nev., was forced last week to give up the cap on carbon, which is blamed for global warming, when it became clear he didn't have the votes to pass it.
The new bill would require oil companies to pay higher fees into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund and would eliminate the $75 million cap on economic liability from an oil spill. It calls for spending $5 billion for the Home Star program, which would provide rebates to consumers to encourage energy efficiency upgrades. It also would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The American Petroleum Institute assailed the elimination of the cap on economic liability. The group's president and CEO, Jack Gerard, said that requiring "an unattainable level of insurance coverage" would force American companies out of U.S. waters. Even those companies that self-insure, he said, "would see costs skyrocket, driving investments out of the United States."
On vehicles, the measure has portions of an electric vehicle bill introduced by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., including $400 million to encourage the deployment of electric cars in certain cities and a competition run by the federal government to develop a battery that will power a car for 500 miles on a single charge. The bill also encourages federal agencies to buy electric drive vehicles for their fleets and offers incentives to retrofit heavy-duty vehicles for natural gas.
The bill does not include a renewable electricity standard, despite a last-minute push by some senators, businesses and clean energy advocates. Such a standard would require utilities to produce a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources.
At a news conference earlier Tuesday, reporters asked Reid about supporters' contention that there were the necessary 60 votes for the renewable electricity standard.
"The numbers that we have indicate that those votes are not there," Reid responded. "I know there are some people saying that, but I'd like them to give me the names, and I'll be happy to check them off."
On oil, the bill would speed up claims processes for people harmed by spills and would overhaul government regulation of offshore drilling to prevent conflicts of interest.
Reid plans to introduce the bill on Wednesday and bring it to the floor later this week, with an eye on a vote next week.
Meanwhile, House leaders hope to bring their oil spill package to a vote this week. The Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources Act, or Clear Act, includes new safety standards for offshore drilling; full liability for responsible parties to cover 100 percent of the cleanup costs and damages of oil spills; a Gulf of Mexico restoration program; ethics standards aimed stopping the revolving door between government regulators and the oil and gas industry; and a new trust fund for oceans.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the legislation would reduce the federal budget deficit by $5.3 billion from 2011-2015 and $1.7 billion from 2011-2020.
Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.