Special Reports

Political resistance to new drilling intensifies

Resistance to expanded offshore oil drilling intensified in Washington on Wednesday, as BP reportedly increased its worst-case estimate for the leak in the Gulf of Mexico and the spill began to play into fall elections.

Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson, of Florida, and Robert Menendez, of New Jersey, are vowing to block expanded drilling in an energy bill, even as the White House is holding off on saying whether President Barack Obama will modify his proposal to expand exploration for oil on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Policy changes will have to wait for the results of a 30-day review of the Gulf disaster due by the end of May, White House energy and environment adviser Carol Browner told The Wall Street Journal in an interview.

The spill has also begun to factor into Florida’s gubernatorial race ahead of the November midterm elections.

Earlier this week, newly independent Florida Gov. Charlie Crist — a former drilling supporter — said he won’t support more exploration off his state’s shores.

“I think all bets are off,” the Senate hopeful and former Republican governor told reporters Monday. “We’ve got to cease and desist as it relates to this,” said Crist, who said Florida should boost its commitment to clean energy instead.

Marco Rubio, Crist’s Republican opponent, isn’t ruling out the need for more drilling.

Rep. Kendrick Meek, Crist’s Democratic challenger, on Wednesday signed onto a House bill that would increase the cap on oil companies’ liabilities for spills to $10 billion.

“If Big Oil caused the spill, Big Oil should foot the bill, plain and simple,” Meek said.

A comprehensive energy bill being pushed by the White House is hanging in the balance. The bill, authored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, is a mix of efforts to cap carbon emissions, expand drilling and increase use of nuclear and other power sources.

“I believe this is the year — perhaps our last, best chance — to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation,” Kerry said Wednesday at a green jobs conference.

The measure included drilling to attract Republican support. But now Democrats are balking at legislation that would boost drilling, dealing a blow to Obama.