Outside editorial: Big Oil's politics rule Senate on energy

Posted: Monday, August 09, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in The Miami Herald:

Here are a couple of statistics whose connection may not be immediately apparent:

• According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2010 looks to be the hottest year in recorded history, capping the hottest decade on record.

• According to the nonprofit watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics, the oil industry contributed more than $35 million to federal political candidates and parties in the 2008 election cycle.

The second fact may help to explain why the U.S. Senate recently watered down an energy bill sponsored by Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman that would have begun to address the first: global warming.

Worse still, on Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he is now postponing a vote on the bill, which would also have addressed the lax oversight and sloppy safety standards revealed by the disastrous BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Senate Republicans and a handful of coastal state Democrats oppose the bill in its present form.

The House, in contrast, last Friday passed a tough Democratic-authored bill that would, among other things, require offshore drillers to adhere to U.S. safety standards and make them 100 percent liable for oil spill cleanups and damages. It passed with no Republican support and was opposed by two dozen Democrats.

So even as BP finally appears to have permanently stopped the oil and gas gushing from its broken well in the Gulf, Washington can't find consensus on how to protect U.S. coastal areas from a similar catastrophe.

And while the capital swelters in record heat, global-warming doubters - Republicans and Democrats aligned with the oil and gas industries in their states - stick their heads in the sand to protect Big Oil. Its carbon dioxide emissions are the biggest source of the greenhouse gases connected to global warming.

Today the most credible U.S. scientific sources - NOAA, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, leading atmospheric scholars - don't discuss the Earth's warming because of greenhouse-gas emissions as a theory. They discuss it as a fact, as happening now with effects like the shrinking polar ice cap, a notable rise in sea level, in warmer ocean temperatures and hotter summers and milder winters. For instance, despite the bout of severe snow storms some regions experienced last winter, the last 12 months have been the hottest on record.

Carbon credits

In 2009 the House passed a bill that would have created a cap-and-trade program. Companies with low carbon emissions could sell or trade credits to those with higher emissions to reduce the overall carbon footprint. The Kerry-Lieberman Senate bill had similar language but it was stripped out.

Politics trumped science once again in the Senate when it came to crafting a sound energy policy. Meantime, just crank up those air conditioners, senators.

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