CLIMATE:

With an eye on Copenhagen, Senate tiptoes back into cap-and-trade debate

Senate Democrats resume their efforts this week to advance global warming legislation as President Obama readies for the international glare of U.N. climate negotiations next week in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to meet later this week with key Senate committee leaders for a pre-Copenhagen strategy session. Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) hosts a hearing tomorrow on policy options for dealing with climate change.

And Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are working on the rough outline of their bipartisan legislative proposal, though details may not be released until early next year.

All this comes as Obama officials and Capitol Hill staff pack their bags for the two-week U.N. summit where world leaders are expected to hash out the broad political goalposts for a new global warming treaty.

State Department deputy climate envoy Jonathan Pershing briefed about 40 Senate Democratic and GOP aides yesterday on the status of the talks, which last week got a boost when Obama pledged the United States to a roughly 17 percent emissions cut in 2020 so long as Congress also acts on the issue.

Senate aides said Pershing predicted several major decisions to come out of the U.N. talks. Among other things, Copenhagen is expected to produce a political agreement on the schedule for when world leaders will sign off on a legally binding treaty that could replace the Kyoto Protocol.

U.N. officials are considering either a final negotiation session in June or December 2010, a schedule that mirrors what Democratic leaders hope to follow on Capitol Hill.

But it will take considerable momentum on both fronts -- domestically and internationally -- to get across the finish line. And it remains far from clear if Obama can deliver during the 2010 midterm elections with his own global warming law in the United States.

Obama is scheduled to speak in Copenhagen on Dec. 9, and environmental groups want the president to state a target completion date for the Senate. So far, Obama has stayed clear of declaring any public deadlines on the climate bill with the White House last week saying only that it wants the legislation done "as soon as possible."

Reid, who is juggling other top administration priorities, including the economy and a health care bill that will dominate the floor agenda through Christmas, said last month he would bring the climate bill up "sometime in the spring." A Reid spokesman declined comment yesterday when asked about Obama's emissions pledge and plans to speak next week in Copenhagen.

Looking for cosponsors

Prospects for the Senate bill depend in large part on the work that Kerry and his allies can do in the narrow window before next spring. Currently, E&E counts 41 senators who can reliably be counted on as "yes" or "probably yes" votes, meaning there is a significant uphill climb to notch the 60 votes needed to thwart an expected GOP-led filibuster.

Kerry had originally said he would release a rough blueprint of his climate and energy bill before Copenhagen. But speaking to reporters on Nov. 16, Kerry indicated it may take longer. "I think a framework is coming together, whether we put it out or don't put it out," Kerry said.

Several current and former Senate aides said that they doubt Kerry, Graham and Lieberman will be ready with a blueprint by the end of this week, adding that it made little sense to drop such a major document now unless they also have more news to report in terms of cosponsors.

"If I were advising the three leaders, I'd say don't release a framework until you have a number of fence-sitters behind you who say, 'I support this,'" said Chelsea Maxwell, a former senior climate aide to retired Sen. John Warner (R-Va.). "Otherwise, you put something out there and people start taking their shots at it over the holidays."

Kerry's legislative effort comes as Bingaman takes another swing at a once-postponed hearing on the different legislative and regulatory approaches for global warming, including cap and trade, carbon taxes and limits on specific sectors of the U.S. economy, such as power plants.

Bill Wicker, a Bingaman spokesman, said the chairman supports the economywide cap-and-trade approach for reducing emissions but also sees some merits in the other ideas. Additionally, several panel members on both sides of the aisle have signaled interest in legislative options beyond the cap-and-trade bill approved earlier this spring in the House and now up for debate in the Senate.

"We thought it'd be a good idea to step back and put all of the different policy options into a single hearing," Wicker said.

Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), offered Bingaman praise for keeping an open mind to alternatives. "Everyone assumes cap and trade is the only way to go," Dillon said. "There's been a demonization or marginalization of anyone raising other options."

As for Murkowski, a onetime supporter of cap-and-trade legislation, Dillon said, "She's not promoting one idea over another yet. She's exploring the options."

Schedule: The hearing is tomorrow at 10 a.m. in 366 Dirksen.

Witnesses: Ray Kopp, Resources for the Future; Ted Gayer, the Brookings Institution; David Hawkins, Natural Resources Defense Council; Jonathan Banks, Clean Air Task Force; and John Alic, independent consultant.