CLIMATE:

Bingaman calls on Senate to take up energy-only bill

With uncertainty swirling around a comprehensive climate and energy bill, Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) today advocated for the full Senate to take up his "energy only" bill.

That approach would allow debate to begin on energy legislation while allowing senators to attach climate provisions if they can garner enough support, Bingaman said today. "If there are other things that people want to add, I have no problem with that," he said. "I think we ought to bring up and pass what we can pass."

The bill approved by the energy panel (S. 1462) last year should be brought to the Senate floor "whenever the majority leader can find time on the Senate calendar," Bingaman said.

He and other centrist Democrats have been promoting the bill as a bipartisan alternative to the climate bill. But senators who have spent months putting together a bill to limit carbon emissions and those who oppose wider offshore drilling say the energy-only approach is the wrong way to go.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) has pushed for the energy-only approach, emphasizing that it came through a regular committee process and earned Republican votes. The bill, approved 15-8 last June, would impose a national renewable electricity standard, overhaul federal financing for "clean energy" projects, establish a suite of efficiency measures, mandate new federal electricity-transmission siting power and allow wider oil and gas leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

"And coincidentally, this bipartisan bill actually reduces carbon emissions, which is a good thing," Dorgan said yesterday. "I don't dismiss what anybody else is doing, but it seems to me that we shouldn't have that hold up another piece of legislation that has great merit for the environment and energy."

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) also said the uncertainty over the climate bill could create an opening for an energy-only bill. "If they give up trying to attach an energy bill on cap and trade, then we can get serious about an energy bill," said Inhofe, the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

But Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), emerging from a meeting with several Senate Democrats who have long been working on the climate issue, said there was concern about the energy-only push and called it a "mistake." Lieberman has been crafting the comprehensive climate bill along with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), but Graham has threatened to abandon the process over Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) plans to also tackle immigration ahead of November's midterm elections.

"It doesn't do it," Lieberman said of the energy-only bill. "We've got to have a comprehensive bill that prices carbon to bring the new energy jobs, the energy independence that we need."

Noting that he supported two energy bills in the last six years, Lieberman said they have been constructive steps forward but have not produced a new wave of jobs, made the country more energy independent or done much to reduce carbon emissions.

Likewise, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) cautioned against the energy-only approach.

"I worry that energy only will not give us the carbon caps we want," Lautenberg said. "I hope we can. We want an energy bill, but we also want to know that we can put a cap on carbon emissions realistically, get the green jobs that are critical in this whole thing."

The energy committee bill would not necessarily be an easier sell than the climate bill. It has bipartisan support, but it also has bipartisan opposition, and it is almost as difficult to add up 60 votes in the Senate for the energy-only approach as it is to find 60 votes for a climate bill (Greenwire, April 26).

Reporters Darren Samuelsohn and Robin Bravender contributed.

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