Washington (CNN) – Echoing President Obama’s Oval Office address to the nation last week, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, said Sunday that a comprehensive energy bill can be done during this midterm election year. Lieberman added that he hoped the Gulf oil spill would help motivate lawmakers to support the controversial legislation.
Speaking Tuesday, Obama called the Gulf oil disaster "the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now."
Asked about energy legislation Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, Lieberman said a bill “does have a chance and it needs to be done.”
Lieberman, one of two principal architects of an energy bill that includes a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, also suggested that support for his bill is about 10 senators shy of the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.
“There are about 50 senators who want to vote for a strong, comprehensive energy bill that puts a price on carbon pollution,” Lieberman told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. “There are about 30 who are set against it and there are 20 undecided. You’ve got to get to 60 to pass anything in the Senate. We need half of the undecided and we can do it.”
The senator added, “And we’ve got to do it. And I hope the spill in the Gulf will motivate us to do it. Because the less we depend on oil, the less chance there is of another environmental disaster like this.”
Asked about a competing bill that does not include a comprehensive cap-and-trade system, Lieberman expressed some openness to a compromise floated by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that would impose a carbon cap only on the energy utilities across the country.
“Yes, I’d like to look at that,” Lieberman said, though he was quick to defend the concept of an economy-wide cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions.
“If you put a price on the pollution that carbon emits into our atmosphere, then you’re going to create an incentive for hundreds of billions of dollars of private capital to be invested in energy sources and systems that don’t put carbon into the atmosphere – like solar and wind and biomass and nuclear.”
He added, “So we need to put a price on carbon to let the private sector create the jobs and the energy industries we need.”
The independent senator also sounded off on what he sees as causes of the Gulf oil spill.
“The big mistakes made here were made before the accident. The big mistakes were made by the Minerals Management Service of the federal government that has a responsibility to approve oil spill response plans by the oil companies like BP before they’ll let them drill.
“And the plan that BP submitted, we now know, was a joke,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman suggested that the Obama administration should review who is responsible for overseeing different aspects of offshore drilling. The former Democrat pointed out that the U.S. Coast Guard is currently responsible for certifying offshore oil rigs and their spill response plans while the Minerals Management Service, which is part of the Department of Interior, is responsible for regulating subsurface, deep water oil wells.
“I think we’ve got to consolidate that in one agency,” Lieberman told Crowley.
He added, “I put my confidence in the Coast Guard. Let the Coast Guard have broad responsibility for preventing oil spills and then getting ready – better than they obviously were this time – to stop them once they start.”