Climate-Change Bill Avoids ‘Cap-and-Trade’ Tag in U.S. Senate
When Tea Party activists began protesting last July, it wasn’t the health-care overhaul that set them off. The target was a cap-and-trade bill, designed to limit carbon emissions, that had passed the U.S. House of Representatives a few days before.
Their anger, along with opposition from some Democrats, stalled the bill in the Senate. By winter, polls showed more Americans were questioning whether climate change was even a concern. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who favors climate action, told reporters March 2 that “cap-and- trade is dead.”
Now Graham, John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, and independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut are preparing to introduce a compromise bill in the Senate. They have indicated it will include a mandatory, declining limit on carbon emissions in the electric-power industry while giving utilities the right to buy and sell carbon allowances.
The senators aren’t calling it “cap-and-trade,” though. The legislation is about “pricing carbon,” Graham told reporters in Washington last month.
The lawmakers say their approach will win support because, unlike the House measure, it isn’t an economywide cap. To neutralize opposition, the measure wouldn’t cover manufacturers for years and may exempt the oil industry. The bill would boost nuclear energy, clean coal, and offshore oil and gas drilling, and might block the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to regulate greenhouse gases.
Tough to Pass
Graham said yesterday the compromise measure also would omit a so-called linked fee on oil-related emissions or any provision that could be viewed as a gasoline tax.
“There won’t be a gas tax,” Graham told reporters in Washington. “We are trying to find a way to get the transportation sector covered in the most business-friendly manner and the linked-fee idea is not going to be in there.”
As recently as last month, Graham said the bill would call for oil companies to pay fixed emission fees tied to a proposed carbon-trading market.
Even scaled back, the bill will be tough to pass, said Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who opposed the House measure. “For every one you get on, you have two that leap out of the wheelbarrow,” she told reporters on April 20.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and co-author of prior global warming bills, said yesterday that he doesn’t believe the new climate measure will include adequate measures to promote nuclear power.
Getting 60 Votes
“From what I’ve heard there is no meaningful nuclear component,” McCain said in an interview. “I’ve repeatedly said I would not support any proposal that didn’t have a robust nuclear power component.”
Rather than go through a committee debate, the sponsors plan to give their proposal to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, to “take, negotiate, and then bring to the floor,” Lieberman told reporters on April 20.
So far, the Obama administration is staying out of the way. “We are going to let the Senate decide how best to proceed,” Carol Browner, Obama’s senior adviser on energy and the environment, told a conference in Washington that day.
Environmental leaders are urging President Barack Obama to step into the fight. Some say they’re pessimistic that the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman compromise can attract the required 60 votes in the Senate even if he does.
“We don’t see the kind of momentum that you are eventually going to need,” Carl Pope, chairman of the San Francisco-based Sierra Club, said in an interview. “At some point, either people start jumping on or you don’t get to 60, and we haven’t seen people jumping on yet.”
–Editors: Eric Pooley, Larry Liebert
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