ENERGY POLICY:

Pew leads ad push for lame-duck passage of spill bill

With the Senate returning next week for a lame-duck session, the Pew Environment Group and other green organizations will push for passage of the oil spill bill that died before the August recess.

Fearful that the next Congress won't act, green groups plan to visit senators and ask supporters to call and write lawmakers. Pew tomorrow will also launch an ad campaign in states with senators who could help advocate legislative movement.

"Loss to tourism from the oil spill: $22,700,000,000," says the newspaper ad, which shows a picture of an oil-tainted shoreline. "And the laws that let it happen remain unchanged."

"It's time for our offshore drilling laws to strengthen safety standards to protect oil workers and the environment," the newspaper spot adds, "require greatly improved plans and equipment for oil spill response, hold polluters, not taxpayers responsible for oil spill damages, launch a major restoration and monitoring effort for Gulf Coast communities and ecosystems."

The ad will run in The Miami Herald, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger, Nashville's Tennessean and the Portland [Maine] Press Herald. In addition to Pew Environment Group, it is co-sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife, the National Wildlife Federation, the Gulf Restoration Network, the Ocean Conservancy and the National Audubon Society.

It is unclear whether the measure will make the cut of items being placed on the lame-duck agenda, however.

"We have a long list of things to do and not a lot of time to do them," said Regan Lachapelle, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "We need to talk to [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell, the rest of our caucus, the White House and the House to see what is doable."

The lame-duck session might actually help bring about a vote, said Marilyn Heiman, director of the offshore energy reform project for the Pew Environment Group. Senators who lost their job in the election "have nothing to lose," she said, "and it's the right thing to do."

"We're hoping to highlight the issue and remind members of the Senate that they need to act on this legislation before this Congress is over," Heiman said. "They can't afford not to act. As the spill fades in people's minds there's less and less chance of their taking action."

The push on oil spill legislation also comes as Pew expresses concerns about Royal Dutch Shell PLC's plans to drill off the Alaska coast next year. Pew on Wednesday will release an analysis on challenges to preventing and containing oil spills in the Arctic Ocean.

"It details the complications of cleaning up a spill in the harshest environment on earth," Pew said.

Heiman said Pew believes there are enough votes for Senate passage of the spill bill -- if the legislation gets to the floor. A bill passed the House last summer.

The oil industry last summer voiced concerns about an oil spill bill, particularly the idea of eliminating a cap on liability, fearing that doing so could push the smaller players out of business. Heiman with Pew said environmental groups, realizing that no liability cap is politically untenable, instead are asking for a higher cap that would adjust upward with inflation.

The American Petroleum Institute, trade group for the oil industry, declined to say how it would respond to new lobbying for an oil spill bill.

"We're not speculating on the lame-duck session," API spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel said. "API and its members remain focused on the industry's commitment to safely and reliably providing the energy this country needs to power its economy and create jobs."

Click here to see the environmental group's ad.