ENERGY POLICY:

Senate CES talks have stalled -- Graham

A key Senate Republican on energy issues said today that efforts to craft a standard that would require utilities to generate a portion of their electricity from low-carbon sources are "kind of stuck."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who last year temporarily joined Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in writing cap-and-trade climate legislation, said his work on a "clean energy" standard (CES) is stalled.

"It's just not getting a whole lot of attention right now," he told reporters in the Capitol.

Graham late last year floated legislation that would require utilities to source a percentage of their electricity from low-carbon sources, like renewable energy, nuclear energy and coal with carbon capture and storage. The measure served to counter language pushed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and then-Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) that would have restricted the mandate exclusively to renewables.

But both bills stalled, and Graham's more broad-reaching CES was seen as a path forward on energy policy in the new Congress. Hopes of passing such a measure were buoyed when President Obama called for such a standard during his State of the Union address.

But since then, energy talks have waned as lawmakers have focused their efforts on sorting out a budget for the current fiscal year.

"I think part of it is we just haven't had the time to sit and do it -- we're buried in budget issues -- and we haven't dedicated enough time to move into the arena yet," said Sen. Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat in talks with Graham about CES language.

Begich said his staff and Graham's staff had held one discussion about CES language, but no details have been sorted out yet. Still, he said he is still interested in discussing the issue.

Graham said widespread discussions will probably remain stalled until gasoline pump prices reach $4 or $5 a gallon. But the ongoing unrest in Libya could be a catalyst, he said.

"I think anything that focuses on the country's dependency on foreign oil and how we're all tied to events outside our control really does help," Graham said.

Bingaman, who is also involved in CES discussions, said last night that he, too, could see the situation in Libya sparking discussions on energy policy, but he is more interested in understanding the issues.

"Frankly, you know everything plays into everything here in Congress, so I wouldn't be surprised if someone uses the current fighting in Libya as an argument either for or against doing something in this area," he told reporters last night. But, he added, "We're trying to do the best we can to understand the issues and see if we can develop a consensus on a [CES] proposal."

Bingaman said discussions were ongoing with other senators, experts and administration officials.

"I can't tell you where they're headed at this point," Bingaman said. "They're still very fluid."

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