Above, you see David Vitter claiming to support “removing” the liability cap for the BP oil spill, even sponsoring the legislation and trying to push it to the floor, before it was “objected to from the other side.”

Vitter is talking about his legislation that would allow for the cap to rise to an indeterminate number “equal to the last four quarters of the responsible party’s profits” – in other words, subject to determination from BP’s accountants. That’s a far cry from “removing” the cap, as he says here. And his colleagues on the Republican side did object last week to a full removal of the liability cap. I’m trying to get a response to this from Robert Menendez, the Senator who actually objected to Vitter pushing his legislation to the floor.

I’ve been saying all along that the Senate will eventually do something with the cap. Up to now, Democrats have only tried to push it through with unanimous consent, essentially setting a trap for the other side. But Harry Reid signaled today that there is a vehicle for raising the cap that wouldn’t be subject to a UC request, and that would be folding it into climate legislation. From Reid’s letter to Committee chairmen, sent today (I’ll put the whole letter on the flip):

As you know, I hope to bring comprehensive clean energy legislation before the full Senate later this summer. As your Committee works to develop that legislation, I think it is extremely important that you each examine what could be included in a comprehensive energy bill that would address the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The economic, social and environmental devastation occurring there now due to the oil pollution is unprecedented. I believe it is important that your Committee see what can be done to address both the existing situation and to reduce the risks of such a catastrophe happening again.

Among the actions I think we need to explore are ensuring that the oil companies’ are held accountable for their actions and the damages caused by their operations. This may require adjusting current law to more accurately assess and address the damages caused by failures, to ensure the swift and fair compensation of people and communities for their oil pollution related losses, and to update relevant criminal and civil penalty structures. In addition, we must make sure that effective federal safety standards are in place and effectively enforced and that we are better equipped to avert, detect and adequately respond to disastrous failures in the future.

In other words, anything related to the liability cap, as well as expanded regulatory oversight for offshore drilling, the breakup of the Minerals Management Service, basically everything to do with the tragedy in the Gulf, will become part of the climate bill. And Reid says here that he would want to work on that bill on the Senate floor during the July work period.

This doesn’t mean that the climate bill would be the only avenue for removing the cap – I would imagine that if it failed, Menendez’ Oil Spill Bailout Prevention Act would get its own vote. But for now, that’s the plan. And so it’ll be David Vitter “objecting from the other side” when he predictably votes against that piece of legislation.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear Chairmen Baucus, Bingaman, Boxer, Dodd, Leahy, Lieberman, Lincoln and Rockefeller:

As you know, I hope to bring comprehensive clean energy legislation before the full Senate later this summer. As your Committee works to develop that legislation, I think it is extremely important that you each examine what could be included in a comprehensive energy bill that would address the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The economic, social and environmental devastation occurring there now due to the oil pollution is unprecedented. I believe it is important that your Committee see what can be done to address both the existing situation and to reduce the risks of such a catastrophe happening again.

Among the actions I think we need to explore are ensuring that the oil companies’ are held accountable for their actions and the damages caused by their operations. This may require adjusting current law to more accurately assess and address the damages caused by failures, to ensure the swift and fair compensation of people and communities for their oil pollution related losses, and to update relevant criminal and civil penalty structures. In addition, we must make sure that effective federal safety standards are in place and effectively enforced and that we are better equipped to avert, detect and adequately respond to disastrous failures in the future.

As you know, we are grossly overdependent on oil for our energy needs, in part because the oil companies have chosen not to invest their massive profits in the domestic production of clean and renewable alternative fuels that would make our nation more secure and reduce the risks of environmental disasters. This overdependency would not be so grave an economic and national security threat except that the United States has less than 3% of the world’s oil reserves, yet consumes approximately 25% of the world’s oil production. This grave imbalance means we send hundreds of billions of dollars overseas to pay for oil every year instead of investing in clean energy jobs at home.

Clearly we cannot now afford to halt the domestic oil production that can be done safely and responsibly, but we can demand that companies operating in deepwater invest in the development and deployment of emergency response technologies and safety procedures that are sufficient to handle worst case scenarios. But, to avoid more disasters and to reduce our vulnerability to the obvious and hidden costs of oil, we must move much more quickly to kick the oil habit as soon as possible and push harder for the production of affordable alternative fuels and advanced vehicles.

I would ask that you provide any recommendations or report legislation, if desired, in your Committee’s jurisdiction, before the Fourth of July recess to address the challenges that I have laid out above so it can be incorporated into a comprehensive clean energy bill for consideration during the July work period. We must act soon to ensure there are no statutory impediments to quick action in the Gulf of Mexico and to moving forward rapidly on a safer, cleaner and more secure energy policy.