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As the spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico oozes it way toward Louisiana, Democrats are rapidly backing away from their prior support for new off-shore drilling as part of a compromise clean energy bill. Both the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Friday they were re-examining the need for such drilling, citing the April 20 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 and began spilling crude oil into the waters as a reason.

Together, the statements deal a severe blow to the already dimming chances for a climate bill this year. The effort was hanging by a thread after a blowup between Reid and the bill’s lone Republican co-author, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., over whether the Senate would tackle that bill or immigration first.

Offshore drilling is crucial to the climate and energy bill’s chances in Congress. Without it, it may not win over enough Republicans and moderate Democrats for passage. Democratic leaders had opposed drilling as anti-green, but their opposition began to cool last year as political realities set in. In an October New York Times op-ed, Graham and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., co-authors of the climate bill, wrote:

We are committed to seeking compromise on additional onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration — work that was started by a bipartisan group in the Senate last Congress. Any exploration must be conducted in an environmentally sensitive manner and protect the rights and interests of our coastal states.

By spring the White House made a qualified endorsement of drilling. “We’re announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration, but in ways that balance the need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect America’s natural resources,” President Obama told an audience at Andrews Air Force Base on March 31.

The oil rig accident has changed that. On ABC’s “Good Morning American” on Friday, White House adviser David Axelrod said:

What the president has said — all he has said — is he’s not gonna continue the moratorium on drilling. But he hasn’t — no additional drilling has been authorized and none will (be) until we find out what happened here and whether there was something unique and preventable here.

Reid weighed in Friday, issuing a press release (not online at the time of this posting) that said: “This terrible event will, undoubtedly, require us to re-examine how we extract our nation’s offshore energy resources and will have to be taken into consideration with any legislation that proposes to open new areas to development.”

Investor’s Business Daily, 30 April 2010

see also:

Gulf oil slick is a disaster for world climate deal