Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is urging Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to quickly write comprehensive climate and energy legislation to give the measure a chance of reaching the floor this year.
Reid and Kerry met Tuesday in the Capitol to discuss strategy on a sweeping measure that is expected to include incentives for nuclear power and domestic oil and gas production, as well as some mechanism for pricing greenhouse gas emissions.
While Reid supports the legislative effort, he told Kerry that time is critical for getting a bill out for senators to review given the emphasis on the economy and an already-heated election year political season, a Senate Democratic aide close to the effort said today.
"He said, 'I need a bill as soon as possible,'" the aide said.
Kerry this week has repeatedly stressed that he and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have been working with urgency to produce an overall climate and energy package. They have met three times this week, including a session Monday night with White House climate adviser Carol Browner and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
"We'll be coming out with a bill sometime soon and start engaging in the debate," Kerry said yesterday during a meeting in his office with about a dozen student climate activists. "A lot is happening behind the scenes."
Another Senate aide engaged in the negotiations said the trio is trying to prepare a bill for Reid and others to examine, "but their receptivity to the proposal will ultimately determine the timing of when we're actually done."
Reid is leaving details of the bill to the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman trio, including the mechanism for pricing carbon.
Kerry told reporters on Tuesday that the debate over pricing emissions is the biggest stumbling block, with all ideas still on the table about using a cap-and-trade system, a carbon tax and methods to distribute valuable emission allocations. But Graham said in an interview that same day that they are edging closer to a deal that would treat power plants differently than other major sources of greenhouse gases (E&E Daily, Feb. 24).
"Yeah, it's complicated, but doable," Graham said. "You have to look at it anew. There are different ways to price carbon from different sectors of the economy."
President Obama yesterday signaled his willingness to compromise on some of the details, so long as he gets legislation from Congress that puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions (E&ENews PM, Feb. 24).
"Many businesses have embraced this approach -- including some who are represented here today," the president told CEOs at the Business Roundtable. "Still, I am sympathetic to those companies that face significant potential transition costs, and I want to work with this organization and others like this to help with those costs and to get our policies right.
"What we can't do is stand still. The only certainty of the status quo is that the price and supply of oil will become increasingly volatile, that the use of fossil fuels will wreak havoc on weather patterns and air quality. But if we decide now that we're putting a price on this pollution in a few years, it will give businesses the certainty of knowing they have the time to plan for the transition."
Several Senate moderates -- from both sides of the aisle -- are resisting Obama's push for a comprehensive bill that includes a carbon price mechanism, saying it will be too costly for the economy. Obama also doesn't have the backing of one longtime GOP supporter on global warming efforts, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
"I appreciate anybody's efforts that's trying to do anything, but I can't join in an effort where nuclear power is basically out of the equation," McCain said yesterday.
Two of McCain's closest Senate allies -- Graham and Lieberman -- are at the center of the negotiations. But McCain said his friends aren't able to satisfy his demands because of a broader philosophical difference with the Obama administration on nuclear power and the administration's decision to abandon the planned Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear waste repository.
"They announce they're closing Yucca Mountain, and they will not recycle," McCain said. "You can't get there from here. You can have all the titles you want, but it doesn't work."
Reid wants to bring the climate and energy bill to the floor this spring. But he will first need to get a U.S. EPA analysis of the proposal. The agency is expected to take about four weeks to run modeling on the bill, followed by another week of interagency review before it can be ready for the floor.