Senators hope compromise will gain votes for climate bill

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 10, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Senators working on a compromise climate bill unveiled the basics of their plan for the first time on Thursday, including encouragement for new nuclear power plants, a continued use of coal and a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target that's lower than what the Senate had been considering.

Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, are looking for a plan that wins enough business support so that senators will see it as a win for the economy and a way to line up more support for it. So far Graham is the only Republican to speak favorably about the plan and many Democratic senators also are uncertain because of worries about energy costs and jobs.

The framework was announced following weeks of talks between the three senators and their colleagues.

"The idea of unlimited carbon pollution in perpetual form doesn't sit well with most Republicans," but they're concerned with the costs of limiting them, Graham said. Success in getting enough votes to pass the bill depends on support for nuclear energy, an agreement to continue to burn coal, and a "meaningful" expansion of oil and gas drilling that adds to the U.S. supply, Graham said.

"If we can't make this good business it won't happen," Graham said. "I believe we can."

Graham said he was on board with efforts to craft a bill because he saw it as the best opportunity to reduce dependence on foreign oil and create jobs.

"I believe the green economy is coming. That's not a question of if it's going to happen, it's just when it's going to happen. The sooner the better for me, because the jobs of the future I do believe lie in energy independence and cleaning up the environment," he said.

The White House called the framework announcement "a positive development towards reaching a strong, unified and bipartisan agreement in the U.S. Senate."

Kerry said that the framework sends a message to the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen that the Senate will take action next year to pass a law requiring U.S. emissions reductions. A global climate treaty cannot be reached without it.

Frank O'Donnell, the president of the environmental group Clean Air Watch, called the compromise "tremendously disappointing," adding that "it reads like a coal production manifesto."

The framework said that "coal's future as part of the energy mix is inseparable from the passage" of the bill." It said lawmakers would offer "significant resources" for "clean coal technology" and promote ways to capture carbon emissions and bury them underground.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., planned to introduce an alternative bill — a "cap and dividend" plan that would charge for pollution and return most of the money directly to Americans.

The Kerry-Graham-Lieberman plan includes a cap-and-trade plan for emissions allowances.

Their plan also includes protections for U.S. businesses from unfair competition, a limit on the price of allowances and protections for consumers and businesses from energy price increases.

Kerry said that large companies are asking for a limit on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels because it would give them the certainty they need for making investments.

The plan calls for emissions reductions "in the range of 17 percent below 2005 emission levels" by 2020, the same level that President Barack Obama proposed in the international negotiations. A Senate climate bill passed by the Environment and Public Works Committee without Republican support called for a 20 percent reduction by 2020.

The 17 percent target is equivalent to only a 4 percent cut from 1990 levels, far less than the 25 percent to 40 percent reductions suggested by scientists for developed countries.

The specifics will be worked out by Senate committees meeting in January and February, and the goal is to have a bill for debate in early spring, Kerry said.

In another development, the House voted on final action to spend $1.5 million on a study of U.S. taxes to determine how much they provide incentives to increase or decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., proposed the plan. His office said final agreement in the Senate was likely.

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