Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) urged climate bill supporters today to strike a populist note in lobbying for a sweeping new environmental law that will reduce traditional air pollutants while also tackling global warming.
"I want you to go out there and start knocking on doors and telling people this has to happen," Kerry said during a conference hosted by labor, farming, military veteran and environmental groups. "You know if the Tea Party folks can go out there and get angry because they think their taxes are too high, for God's sake, a lot of citizens ought to get angry about the fact that they're being killed and our planet is being injured by what's happening on a daily basis by the way we provide our power and our fuel and the old practices we have. That's something worth getting angry about."
Kerry, a lead author of Senate energy and climate legislation, tried to make the case that his efforts would help curtail summertime spikes in hospital visits for childhood asthma. And he also insisted that a cap on greenhouse gases would drive private investments in new clean-energy technologies and help restart the economy.
"We need to recognize that the biggest single stimulus package in the United States of America is the energy climate change legislation," he said.
Asked if he was urging activists to echo the tone of Tea Party activists who have tapped into public anger over the economy and Obama administration policies, Kerry replied, "We just have to take a page from who brought us the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act. We've been doing this before, and we just have to get back to basics and make it happen again. It's called being active and not letting up."
Details remain under wraps on the bill that Kerry and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have been working on for several months. The trio are meeting this week and next with moderate Democratic and GOP senators as they look for new ideas on how to cap greenhouse gases while expanding domestic energy production.
All three have acknowledged over the last week that they are looking at a wide range of options for how to curb emissions, from a "hybrid" of caps and taxes to a cap-and-trade program that begins with the electric utility industry and then phases in other sectors of the economy (E&E Daily, Jan. 27).
Still, Kerry blasted The New York Times for a story published today that said the trio would end up drafting a bill that is more modest than their original expectations.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Kerry said. "We're not scaling back our effort. We haven't changed our goals one bit. We're simply trying to figure out what the magic formula is to be able to get 60 votes. Our goal remains exactly what it was before, to price carbon and to create a target for the reduction of emissions that's real. That's the goal."
"There are any number of ways of skinning this cat, and we're not stuck on one idea, so that's what they're misinterpreting," he added. "We're looking around for a way to come at this that can get the job done."
The Times story said Kerry's efforts would be scaled back in the wake of Republican Sen.-elect Scott Brown's surprise special election victory last week in Massachusetts. It also quoted Graham appearing to raise doubts about the cap-and-trade components of the legislation he is working on with Kerry.
"Realistically, the cap-and-trade bills in the House and the Senate are going nowhere," Graham told the newspaper. "They're not business-friendly enough, and they don't lead to meaningful energy independence."
Graham's office today said that while his quote was accurate, it was taken out of context. The senator also released a prepared statement expanding on his comments in the Times article to explain that he is not satisfied with the climate and energy bills offered to date.
"The energy legislation that was passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is not strong enough to lead us to energy independence," Graham said. "The climate change legislation passed by the House of Representatives and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is too onerous on business and does not enjoy bipartisan support. My goal is to continue working with Senators Kerry, Lieberman and my Senate colleagues to create a new pathway forward that focuses on a more robust energy security package and a more business-friendly climate legislation."
Several Senate moderates, including Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), have suggested that Congress move first on a pared-down approach that just addresses energy policy, with climate limits perhaps coming later. But there remain questions about what will actually gain momentum on Capitol Hill.
"The economy is the reason we have to focus on clean energy manufacturing, because that's the jobs," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). "I think we'll see an energy bill; whether it be the bill coming out of committee or a more comprehensive bill, I'm not sure."
But Stabenow also said a limit on greenhouse gas emissions could benefit agriculture interests by allowing them to participate in a market that pays them for environmentally friendly offset practices. "I think that it's important in some form to have a price on carbon," she said.
White House pushes back
The New York Times also reported that President Obama's State of the Union speech tonight would reaffirm his commitment to a comprehensive bill that includes a cap on greenhouse gases, as well as measures for energy efficiency, incentives for oil and gas drilling and construction of nuclear power plants.
The president will still insist on a bill that gets the United States to a 17 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2020, even though the president remains open to compromise. "At the end of the day, any and all ideas are on the table because the clock is ticking," an Obama official told the newspaper.
Speaking at the same Capitol Hill forum, the top White House climate adviser Carol Browner said the president's speech would touch on the "issues he ran on and the issues that we worked on in the first year of his presidency." But she declined to comment on any of the specifics.
"You will find out when it's delivered," Browner said. "The president, as you probably know, works on these things in the car on the drive up here to the chambers."
Browner joined Kerry in pushing back against media reports suggesting the energy and climate bill was dead.
"I've been in this town, in and out of this town, for a very long time," she said. "I think predicting when something is going to happen in the legislative process are very very hard to make. You have to just continue working at it and making steady progress. We're encouraged by what we're seeing, and we're going to continue to work at it. This is important for our country."