Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) insisted today that he still supports placing a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and would work to win over reluctant Republicans as part of a broader bill that also opens the door to more domestic energy production.
"To jump-start nuclear power, wind and solar and the green economy, you've got to price carbon," Graham told reporters today. "How you do it is subject to discussion and open debate. But the idea of not pricing carbon, in my view, means you're not serious about energy independence. The odd thing is you'll never have energy independence until you clean up the air, and you'll never clean up the air until you price carbon."
Graham, who is working with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on the issue, was quoted today in a New York Times story that suggested the Senate would end up drafting a climate bill that is more modest than original expectations.
"What is dead is some massive cap-and-trade system that regulates carbon in a fashion that drives up energy costs," Graham told the newspaper.
But Graham aides said the quote was taken out of context. And Graham told reporters that he is simply skeptical of the cap-and-trade approaches taken in the House-passed climate bill (H.R. 2454), as well as a similar bill approved last fall by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (S. 1733).
Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are working behind closed doors on a new measure that puts a limit on carbon while expanding domestic energy production. Absent a marriage between those two issues, Graham said he doubted anything would ever pass the Senate's 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster.
"There will never be 60 votes, ladies and gentlemen, for the energy independence package that I so much want for our nation," Graham said during a conference hosted by labor, farming, military veteran and environmental groups. "And there will never be 60 votes for climate change legislation as it exists today. And it'd be a shame if that's the end of this story. That would be unacceptable to me and to you and a lot of other people."
Details on the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman plan remain under wraps. Kerry yesterday told reporters that they are circulating titles among interested senators. But Graham said he would hold off on making anything public until more lawmakers sign up.
"We're drafting language, but basically, a lot of the language is subject to input from people," Graham said. "If we make accommodations, it's to get people to sign onto the bill."
The Kerry-Graham-Lieberman effort comes as several moderates, including Sens. 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.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a swing vote on the issue, told reporters that he would prefer to see Congress pass legislation capping greenhouse gas emissions so long as it dealt with trade-sensitive industries such as aluminum, chemical, glass and steel. "I want to vote for a cap-and-trade bill," Brown said.
But Brown also said the Senate may have to pull back if opponents do not budge. "We'll move as fast as we can on elements of this, and maybe it's comprehensive, and maybe it's not," he said. "But that doesn't matter to voters. And that doesn't matter to CO2 as long as we do it right."
A coalition of more than 30 environmental, labor and other groups sent Senate leaders a letter today urging them to avoid the temptation of moving on energy issues. Instead, the group called for the passage of a comprehensive bill this year.
"Passing an energy bill alone is just more-of-the-same at a time when our economy and our environment require a new direction," they wrote. "Failing to act now will cost us much more in the future, as other nations continue to surpass the U.S. in transitioning to the clean-energy economy we know awaits us."
Groups signing onto the letter include the Alliance for Climate Protection, the Blue Green Alliance, the Environmental Defense Fund, Interfaith Power and Light, the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oxfam America, the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers.
Click here to read the letter.