CLIMATE:

Reid reaffirms plans for floor debate as sponsors prepare bloc-to-bloc talks

The Senate's top Democrat said yesterday he is still dedicated to spending valuable floor time this year on comprehensive climate and energy legislation, but the three sponsors of the plan may have to go member-by-member in order to deliver a package capable of mustering 60 votes.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he wants to bring the bill from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) to the floor later this spring or summer.

"We're going to really try very hard," Reid told reporters. Asked if the July 4th recess was his target for the floor debate, he said, "I don't have a definite time. A lot is waiting until we get the bill. I've been pushing very hard to get the bill."

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are planning to release their bill (which is expected to place different emission limits on different sectors of the economy and expand domestic oil, gas and nuclear power production) next week to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22. "There's some issues we're closing out, discussing," Lieberman said. "But we're making progress, and as far as I'm concerned, we're still on track to introduce next week."

The Senate trio's path to 60 votes starts with a core of 41 supporters of climate legislation, according to the latest analysis by E&E Daily.

On the list are longtime stalwarts like Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). But more than a dozen of the 41 senators -- such as Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) -- are also wary of concessions on offshore drilling and other provisions that threaten to weaken the environmental integrity of the proposal, including what to do about existing climate authorities for U.S. EPA and states.

E&E lists 32 senators as "no" or "probably no," leaving 27 "fence sitters" -- a regionally diverse group of 27 Democrats and Republicans. If sponsors can net 19 of them without also losing anyone from their base, the bill has a chance of passing.

Graham said he is not expecting all 60 votes to line up at once on the climate and energy bill, but he predicted the sponsors would get there eventually if enough industry and environmental groups sign off on an overall compromise.

"How you get to 60 votes is you get people creating a safety net for politicians," Graham said. "A moderate Democrat or a Republican won't be able to get on board I don't think unless you have some business interests speaking out who have never spoken out before. Environmentalists are going to have to be comfortable enough to support the process. Not all of them, but some of them. We're trying to create a safety net to get to 60 votes."

The biggest subset of fence sitters includes 10 Democrats from states with a heavy reliance on coal, oil, natural gas and trade-sensitive industries. Senate aides acknowledge that Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are building their bill around this core group of Democrats, including Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Mark Begich of Alaska, Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

To date, several of the fence sitters have praised the Kerry-led process but are waiting to see if what gets introduced comes close to meeting their demands -- or whether it is even in the ballpark of what they can negotiate with.

"Everybody is being very polite based on the outline, but it's the details that are going to count," said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Several industry officials are still skeptical Kerry can actually deliver on the many offers he has been making to the fence sitters in recent private conversations.

"He's literally trying to promise everything to everybody," said one industry source close to the negotiations. "While his enthusiasm is appreciated, there's grave doubts he can hold the promises he makes."

Brown said yesterday he is seeking a border adjustment on imported goods from developing countries that do not have their own stringent climate policies. He has also signaled interest in "clean energy" transition aid for local factories and how to contain costs on home-state manufacturers and power suppliers.

Byrd has been pushing for a strong financial boost for technology that captures carbon dioxide at coal plants and stores the gas underground. Landrieu is emphasizing revenue sharing for states that agree to more offshore drilling, as well as a hybrid carbon pricing system that treats the transportation sector differently than electric utilities and big manufacturers.

Begich said he has already gotten much of what he wanted when it comes to production of natural gas and oil drilling on the outer continental shelf, as well as revenue sharing for states that agree to offshore oil drilling. "Those three seem to be moving in the right direction," Begich said, adding that he is waiting to see specifics on money for oil spill research and adaptation.

Asked if he thought the climate bill had a chance of passing the Senate, Begich said, "I'd give it a 60 percent shot out of 100, which is better than two months ago."

One key debate involves fence-sitting Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). The duo have proposed a competing bill, S. 2877, aimed at circumventing a trillion-dollar carbon trading market. Kerry said he plans to take many of their ideas and fold them into his measure, and some environmentalists have a hard time envisioning Cantwell and Collins opposing a final climate bill.

"There's five people, all of whom are interested in the same policy," said Steve Cochran, director of the national climate campaign at the Environmental Defense Fund. "They have to be able to find a way to make that successful."

But both Cantwell and Collins continue to express frustration that their support is still being taken for granted.

"I think the bill we came up with is the right approach," Collins said before the spring recess. "Rather than seeing parts of our bill cannibalized and put into another bill, I think they should take a look at coming onto our legislation."

"I can't wait to see a bill from them," Cantwell said yesterday, noting that the two legislative approaches are very different in nature. "They're trying to go a lot, the whole gamut," she said of Kerry, Graham and Lieberman. "We're just focusing on the right mechanism for changing the direction on carbon and getting on to a plan that helps us before oil goes back up to over $100 a barrel."

Another crop of fence sitters include senators who have shied from the climate spotlight, including Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

Snowe has worked closely with Kerry on past climate bills but recently questioned the wisdom in pushing emission controls on small businesses hurt by the recession. McCaskill joked that she has been avoiding conversations with Kerry, but many observers think she will eventually come on board given her history as one of President Obama's earliest supporters.

Pryor said he welcomes the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman effort and the outreach they have done with industry groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Put me down in the undecided column," Pryor said. "I love the fact they're working hard to try to get something done."

A path to GOP votes?

In the final push for 60, Senate sponsors will still need a handful of Republicans. That is because several Democrats -- including Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Jim Webb of Virginia -- have sent strong signals they will oppose a comprehensive climate bill with mandatory emission limits.

Moderate Republicans on the radar of sponsors and the White House include Murkowski and Sens. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, George LeMieux of Florida, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Richard Lugar of Indiana, and George Voinovich of Ohio.

"There's a path to five or six Republicans," Obama's top energy and climate adviser, Carol Browner, recently told The New York Times.

The Republicans have thus far sent mixed signals about what they expect from the legislative process.

Gregg, perhaps the biggest GOP target for climate authors, has said he wants to use revenue raised by the program to curb taxes. He also said he is focused on oil security. "My primary interest is in reducing our reliance on foreign energy sources and to stop exporting lots of capital that should be used here," he said last month.

LeMieux, appointed last year by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), has been urging the climate bill authors to emphasize nuclear power with faster licensing at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and push the commercial trucking industry toward natural gas.

Brown, elected in January, has sidestepped comment on the details of the climate proposal, though Kerry has said he has spoken with his new colleague on the issue.

Lugar earlier this month unveiled a legislative outline on energy that he said could accomplish half the emission reductions Obama is seeking by 2020 without putting a price on carbon or capping emissions. The bill would include provisions on energy efficiency; stronger vehicle fuel standards; minimum "clean energy" requirements for utilities, including nuclear power; and incentives to shut down the highest-emitting coal plants. He said yesterday he has not been seeking co-sponsors.

Murkowski has pressed for language that would include oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, something the bill's sponsors have ruled out. She is also author of a resolution that would block EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases -- an issue that she has until June to press on the floor. Murkowski yesterday declined to state her position on the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman proposal. "Until I see what the whole elephant looks like, it's really tough to assess," she said.

As for Voinovich, he said he is doubtful there will even be a floor debate on the kind of energy and climate bill that Obama and environmentalists want.

"I think there's many, many land mines that are being talked about, and I believe they may be very difficult to get over," he said last month. "I think there are a lot of members, particularly on the Democratic side, who are going to have to come to the table, would just assume see this thing go away."

The Supreme Court factor

Graham yesterday said President Obama could also imperil chances for the Senate climate bill if he chooses a controversial nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

"If he picks somebody who's going to be controversial, yeah," Graham said. "But if he picks somebody who's generally believed to be acceptable to a wide range of people, then no.

"It'd make it harder," Graham added. "It'd take more time."

Graham, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he had generally favorable views on two possible candidates prominently mentioned by the media: Solicitor General Elena Kagan and U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Judge Merrick Garland. He said he did not know as much about the resume of 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Wood, another reported front-runner.

Graham drew conservative GOP ire last year when he voted to confirm Obama's first Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor. He did not say who he would consider a controversial choice to replace Stevens, though he said someone who garnered unified GOP opposition and also complaints from moderate Democrats would fit the bill.

Kerry dismissed questions about whether the upcoming Senate confirmation debate could hinder the climate legislation. "We're capable of doing more than one thing at one time," he said.

Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said yesterday he wanted to get Obama's nominee through the confirmation process before the August recess. Leahy also said he is not worrying about how the Supreme Court debate will weigh on other legislative business. "My responsibility is simply to get a nominee through, and I will get him or her through," he said.