As an army of workers tries to stem the fallout of a massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast, back in Washington irreparable damage may already have been done to comprehensive energy legislation.
On Friday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said that a bill that includes provisions to increase offshore drilling off the coast of the United States (as envisioned by, among others, the White House) would be a non-starter in the Senate.
"As the White House looks down the line, it wants a climate change bill later this year," Nelson told MSNBC. "[Sen.] Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was insisting that there's going to be offshore drilling. I think that's dead on arrival."
Aides in the Florida Democrat's office are even more skeptical about the prospects for an already-too-difficult-to-pass bill. Negotiators have basically incorporated the president's proposal to expand offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast (and in portions of the Gulf) at the behest of Graham -- who said it would be needed for him to help draw out Republican votes, these aides explained. Now, however, coastal senators (and not just Nelson) are prepared to walk away from the compromise if that provision remains in the final version.
"The president needed Lindsey Graham to take the point on this," a Nelson aide told the Huffington Post. "Lindsey wanted the drilling in the gulf. I think the president's plan was viewed as the concession to Republicans in exchange for their support. This incident has killed [that]."
"When you take Lindsey Graham's [threatened] departure from the talks [over the prospects that immigration reform would go first], and then you take the really ramped up opposition of the coastal state senators in the wake in this spill -- it is dead on arrival if it contains oil drilling, if it doesn't have offshore drilling then you don't have Republicans," the aide concluded. "I think [Sens. John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman, the chief authors of the legislation] know what damage the last week has done to the prospects of getting it done. I think they know they have a problem."
On Thursday, administration officials said that the massive spill will factor into their plans for energy legislation going forward, though they gave no indication that they would drop offshore drilling from their broad set of proposals. The administration announced on Friday morning that no offshore drilling will take place until a thorough investigation of the incident is completed. As it is, it will be next to impossible to start new offshore drilling in that time frame.
On MSNBC, Nelson said he is "satisfied" with what the White House is doing to investigate and cleanup the mess in the Gulf. But his comments on MSNBC, and the subsequent clarification by his aides to the Huffington Post, suggest that the administration's prospects of getting energy legislation through the Senate may have been dealt a fatal blow.
Also on Friday, two New Jersey senators and two members of the state's Congressional delegation urged President Obama to reverse the administration's offshore drilling plans. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and Reps. Frank Pallone and Rush Holt wrote in a letter to the president:
"In the wake of the tragic accident, loss of life, and pollution in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, we are even more steadfastly opposed to any offshore drilling that could imperil the environment or economy of coastal New Jersey. While we appreciate the White House's announcement that no additional offshore drilling will be authorized until a full investigation of the accident is complete, we urge you to go further and reverse your decision on proposed new offshore oil and gas drilling for the outer continental shelf."