Legislators Flee Political Sting of Gulf Oil Spill

Support ebbs for offshore oil in climate change legislation

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Today, the Obama administration said it would not rule out a reversal of its position on expanded offshore drilling. The administration also is supporting a signficant increase in damage limits for oil spills.>

Like a snake coiling to strike—or as some have said, a hurricane in slow motion—the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has yet to unleash its full potential on the people and wildlife of four coastal states. But it has wrought severe political damage.

Ever since the disastrous potential of the gulf spill became clear, political leaders have been backpedaling from their insistence that offshore oil drilling be part of climate change legislation. Today, that exit door was getting crowded, and as The New York Times reported:

Now there is increasing pressure to scrap those provisions entirely in future negotiations and perhaps replace them with measures that reduce oil usage and lessen the chances for drilling accidents.

But, warned Paul Bledsoe, a climate aide during the Clinton administration, what the legislature ultimately does may well depend on what that menacing mass of oil offshore does:

The key legislative response will be determined by the scope of the environmental and economic impact of the Gulf spill, once it becomes known. "This could be a tipping point in energy politics," he said, where a bipartisan consensus emerges for more renewable energy incentives, offshore drilling restrictions and, perhaps, a price on carbon-related emissions. "It could happen because of popular anger."

Now, as the oil spill rivets public attention, is the time for President Obama to make good on his campaign vow to break our nation’s dependence on oil, argues an LA Times columnist.>

From 2006–2014, Terry was managing editor for Earthjustice's blog, online monthly newsletter and print Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine.