APPROPRIATIONS:

Senators offer offshore drilling, black carbon amendments

The Senate may revisit last year's contentious debate over offshore drilling with a potential vote this week on an amendment to the Interior Department spending bill.

Three Republican senators introduced an amendment yesterday that would prohibit money in the fiscal 2010 appropriations measure for Interior, U.S. EPA and the Forest Service from being used to delay implementation of a Bush-era offshore drilling plan.

The measure is among at least two dozen amendments expected to be offered to the spending bill. The Senate is expected to resume consideration of the legislation this morning.

Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and John Barrasso of Wyoming offered the amendment to try to force Interior to implement the 2010-2015 outer continental shelf oil and gas leasing program proposed in the waning days of the Bush administration.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week said it remains unclear whether his department will put the new plan in place before the current plan runs out in 2012.

The public comment period ended yesterday on the Bush-era proposal that would greatly expand outer continental shelf leasing, including opening areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. It would set lease sales between 2010-2015 and thereby replace much of the current program.

"Last year, the prohibitions on OCS drilling expired, allowing us to move ahead with a more sensible approach to gas and energy exploration that would allow us to greatly reduce costs on American families," Vitter said in a statement. "Any further delay would stall that progress we made in clearing the way for increased exploration on the OCS."

The proposal could attract a significant amount of support. Thirty-five senators -- 30 Republicans and five Democrats -- are pressing Salazar to adopt the Bush-era proposal (E&ENews PM, Sept. 21).

The plan emerged after President George W. Bush lifted longstanding leasing bans last summer and lawmakers did not renew largely overlapping limits in the Interior spending bill. The oil and gas industry is pressing Salazar to allow expanded development, but environmentalists do not want to widen drilling.

If the amendment comes to a vote, it would be one of the first times this year Congress has dealt with the contentious issue of offshore drilling. Last year, the issue threatened to derail the appropriations process. The full House Appropriations Committee did not mark up the environmental agencies' spending bill in 2008 because Republicans wanted to force its consideration so they could offer amendments on offshore drilling.

Carper amendment would require soot study

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) introduced an amendment that would direct EPA to study black carbon, or soot, and assess the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions. The Senate will vote on his amendment today.

The amendment, co-sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), is similar to S.849, a Carper bill that cleared the Environment and Public Works Committee in July (E&ENews PM, April 22).

Black carbon -- made of particulate soot from diesel engines, biomass burning and rural cooking -- is thought to be the second leading source of U.S. global warming emissions, trailing only carbon dioxide. Like CO2, the tiny particles absorb sunlight and trap heat in the atmosphere.