WASHINGTON — Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Richard Burr of North Carolina have introduced energy legislation focused on expanding the nation's use of natural gas and nuclear power.
The Republican senators' measure steers clear of proposals backed by many Democrats for a cap-and-trade provision that would cap carbon emissions and fine companies that go over set limits.
The Republicans' bill is an alternative to a climate and energy bill by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, that is currently making the rounds on Capitol Hill. Chambliss' and Burr's bill provides tax credits and taxpayer-financed support for nuclear plants, electric vehicles, natural gas vehicles and a variety of renewable energy sources.
The bill also proposes offering tax incentives to truck manufacturers to produce 18-wheelers that burn natural gas — a switch the senators say would lead to the creation of natural gas fueling sites nationally. The measure also proposes offering incentives to municipalities to buy hybrid buses and creates policy to recycle nuclear fuel to harness energy while reducing the volume and radioactivity of used nuclear fuel.
"Kerry-Lieberman is not going to go anywhere," Chambliss said. "I think it's pretty obvious, particularly with discussions with the White House the other day."
On Tuesday, the White House hosted a bipartisan meeting on energy policy with senators to try to reconcile differences in proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Such measures have stymied the Senate for a year.
Both the Kerry-Lieberman measure and the Obama administration advocate cap-and-trade, suggestions that have met with deep opposition from Republicans and some Democrats.
According to the White House, "The president told the senators that he still believes the best way for us to transition to a clean energy economy is with a bill that makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America's businesses by putting a price on pollution — because when companies pollute, they should be responsible for the costs to the environment and their contribution to climate change."
"Not all of the senators agreed with this approach," the statement read.
"We need an energy policy," Burr said. "And the president's still talking about a climate change bill."
Burr and Chambliss were not among those invited to the White House meeting. The two lawmakers have discussed their measure’s provisions with energy companies but have not yet sought support for their bill among colleagues.
The measure, which extends production tax credits for refined-coal facilities through 2019 but avoids focusing on increased funding for so-called “clean coal” and costly methods to commercially produce “coal to liquid” fuels — might be a tough sell for lawmakers from coal-producing states.
“We’re not in any way taking away the use of coal or diminish coal as a resource,” Chambliss said. “We’re saying there should be a progression of clean coal as a resource.”
Over the course of his career, Chambliss has received more than $250,000 from energy companies and firms that represent them including the Southern Co., which has donated roughly $150,000 to the senator’s campaigns. Chambliss also voted no on a 2008 measure that offered tax incentives for energy production and conservation and against a 2007 measure that factored global warming into federal project planning.
The senators said construction of nuclear power plants could create between 1,400 to 1,800 jobs per plant. The bill relies heavily on stimulus funding from unobligated money from last year’s economic stimulus bill — a measure both senators voted against. The bill has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, so costs estimates are unavailable.
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