Backers of bipartisan Senate legislation establishing a renewable electricity standard hit a stumbling block today as Sen. Lindsey Graham made plans to introduce an alternative energy measure that could draw Republican supporters.
The South Carolina Republican plans to float a new bill today that would establish a mandate requiring utilities to source a percentage of their electricity from clean energy sources, including renewables, nuclear and "clean coal."
The measure could draw supporters away from a measure sponsored by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) that would require utilities to draw 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, like solar, wind and geothermal.
"From my part of the country, that's a bad proposal because it doesn't acknowledge nuclear power as being a low, carbon-free source of energy, and it disadvantages nuclear power," Graham said today. "But I could support a clean energy standard, which I will introduce today."
Graham's measure could draw away support from the Bingaman-Brownback bill, especially luring Republicans from states that generate large amounts of electricity from nuclear and coal. Graham said he already has several Republican co-sponsors and some interested Democrats, but he is not naming names.
One potential supporter could be Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee, a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee who supported the broad energy bill last summer that originally included the RES language. Corker today said he would not support the Bingaman-Brownback stand-alone RES bill.
"The RES provisions were the worst part of the bill in my opinion and had the comprehensive bill reached the floor, I planned to offer an amendment that stripped or greatly altered the RES provisions to include nuclear energy," Corker said in a statement. "I do not support the stand-alone RES bill that was recently introduced."
But Brownback is sticking by the renewable standard and is not worried Graham's bill will cause defections.
"He is certainly free to do whatever he likes but I don't see how he gets to 60 votes," Brownback said, adding that he knows of additional Republicans who would be willing to support his measure, although they are not ready to sign on as co-sponsors yet.
And Bingaman, too, is holding out hope he can find the 60 supporters needed to pass his measure this year. The lawmakers found two additional champions yesterday, when Connecticut Sens. Chris Dodd (D) and Joe Lieberman (I) added their names to the growing list of co-sponsors, bringing the total to 29, including four Republicans.
Graham indicated he is willing to work with Bingaman and Brownback to find compromise language, and he conceded that his new bill is not likely to pass this year.
"We hopefully can find some common ground," he said. "The hope is we can sit down with folks and say, 'Listen, let go of your old prejudices about nuclear.'"
Graham would also like to see an expanded definition of biomass in the mandate, a move that could draw in support from Democrat Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. She said last week her support of RES language would hinge on the legislation including and defining biomass and hydroelectric energy.
"It depends on what you include, and that's very important," Lincoln said. "I mean biomass and the definition of it, and hydroelectric."
Lincoln has previously pushed for RES language that allows more forest materials to count toward meeting the standard.
Reporters Katherine Ling and Robin Bravender contributed.