Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., announced today they will roll out their climate and energy plan Wednesday without their Republican partner and co-author, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
"Over the last three weeks, we all understand Lindsey has been busy with the immigration issue, and we understand his feelings on that issue, but during this period we've continued working, moving forward, and talking in great detail with our Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and with the environmental and business communities," Kerry and Lieberman said in a joint statement. Graham left the talks due to a rift with Senate Majority Leader Reid regarding bringing up immigration reform for debate this year.
Kerry and Lieberman credited Graham for "a significant contribution to construct balanced legislation that will make our country energy independent, create jobs and curb pollution." They added that Graham "has been our partner in building a broad-based coalition of support for legislation that can pass the Senate this year."
But Graham has said the timing is not right to push a climate and energy plan, emphasizing not just the immigration fight with Reid but the continuing investigation and efforts to address the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill caused after the BP's Deepwater Horizon rig collapsed off the Louisiana coast April 20.
"A serious debate on energy legislation is significantly compromised with the cynical politics of comprehensive immigration reform hanging over the Senate," Graham said in a statement today that preceded the announcement from Kerry and Lieberman.
"In addition to immigration, we now have to deal with a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which creates new policy and political challenges not envisioned in our original discussions," he said. "In light of this, I believe it would be wise to pause the process and reassess where we stand."
"I believe there could be more than 60 votes for this bipartisan concept in the future," Graham continued. "But there are not nearly 60 votes today, and I do not see them materializing until we deal with the uncertainty of the immigration debate and the consequences of the oil spill."
The spill has galvanized offshore drilling critics, and at least one -- Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. -- has promised to filibuster a bill that would expand drilling in waters off the continental U.S. coastline. BP is one of three oil companies, along with Shell and ConocoPhillips, that had been expected to support the climate and energy bill at its planned April 26 rollout, until Graham pulled out two days earlier.
Graham added that lawmakers "should move forward in a reasoned, thoughtful manner and in a political climate which gives us the best chance at success. Regrettably, in my view, this has become impossible in the current environment."
Administration officials, environmental groups and others have argued the oil spill could actually increase chances for any plan this year that aims to reduce future U.S. use of oil. But Graham said he disagrees.
"When it comes to getting 60 votes for legislation that includes additional oil and gas drilling with revenue sharing, the climb has gotten steeper because of the oil spill," he said.
Lieberman said Thursday that due to the Gulf spill, he and Kerry were giving a second look to the section of their plan that would allow drilling as close as 75 miles from shore regardless of whether that state or a neighboring state disapproves. He said the 75-mile buffer, as well as language giving coastal producing states guaranteed shares of production revenue, was a provision that is still in play.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said he was expecting to see added protection for coastal areas, including mid-Atlantic states. A bill might also include other added safety measures as a result of the spill.
Kerry and Lieberman offered a more optimistic tone in their statement than Graham.
"We are more encouraged today that we can secure the necessary votes to pass this legislation this year, in part because the last weeks have given everyone with a stake in this issue a heightened understanding that as a nation, we can no longer wait to solve this problem which threatens our economy, our security and our environment," they said. "Our optimism is bolstered because there is a growing and unprecedented bipartisan coalition from the business, national security, faith and environmental communities that supports our legislation and is energized to work hard and get it passed."
They said further details of Wednesday's rollout will be available next week.
At an event this week hosted by the environmental and labor Blue Green Alliance, Kerry said supporters of the plan include the heads of Dow Chemical, Dupont, Florida Power & Light, American Electric Power and General Electric.
This article appears in the May 8, 2010 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.