Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) will unveil their long-awaited energy and climate bill Wednesday even as their former Republican partner claims it has "become impossible" to pass the measure now in light of immigration politics and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
In a joint statement issued today, Kerry and Lieberman predicted success in garnering 60 votes on legislation that would set a first-ever cap on domestic greenhouse gas emissions across multiple sectors of the economy. They said the votes would come because of support they have garnered from across the political spectrum.
"We are more encouraged today that we can secure the necessary votes to pass this legislation this year in part because the last weeks have given everyone with a stake in this issue a heightened understanding that as a nation, we can no longer wait to solve this problem which threatens our economy, our security and our environment," the senators said. "Our optimism is bolstered because there is a growing and unprecedented bi-partisan coalition from the business, national security, faith and environmental communities that supports our legislation and is energized to work hard and get it passed."
Kerry, Lieberman and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) originally planned to release their bill April 26 but postponed the press conference after Graham complained that Democratic leaders had pushed the politically thorny issue of immigration onto the Senate agenda, making it impossible for him to also work on the climate legislation.
Graham today issued his own statement saying he still agreed with the need to pass a climate and energy bill, but he was not sure now was the right time to push ahead.
"When it comes to our nation's policy on energy independence and pollution control, I don't believe any American finds the status quo acceptable," Graham said. "Many senators from both parties have stated that Congress should set energy and carbon pollution policy, not the EPA. I could not agree more. Therefore, we should move forward in a reasoned, thoughtful manner and in a political climate which gives us the best chance at success. Regrettably, in my view, this has become impossible in the current environment.
"I believe there could be more than 60 votes for this bipartisan concept in the future. But there are not nearly 60 votes today and I do not see them materializing until we deal with the uncertainty of the immigration debate and the consequences of the oil spill."
The Kerry-Lieberman climate bill is expected to call by 2020 for a 17 percent cut in emissions below 2005 levels, with the emission limits applying in different ways to power plants, petroleum refiners and trade-sensitive manufacturers. Following seven months of negotiations with Graham, the legislation is also expected to promote increased domestic production of nuclear power and offshore oil and gas, though the exact details remain uncertain following an outcry from environmentalists and some coastal-state Democrats in the wake of the Gulf Coast oil spill.
Kerry, Graham and Lieberman were considering revenue-sharing incentives for states and a veto for drilling within 75 miles of a state's shores. Still, states would have no veto for drilling more than 75 miles out, and neighboring states would have no say. But Lieberman yesterday signaled that plan may be changing. "The one part we're still talking about is the offshore drilling. The other parts are really in pretty solid shape," he said.
In recent weeks, Kerry has predicted business support from the likes of General Electric Co., DuPont, FPL Inc. and American Electric Power Co. Inc., as well as three of the nation's major oil companies, widely expected to be BP PLC, ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell PLC. Roberta Combs, president and CEO of the Christian Coalition of America, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, was also scheduled to attend the April 26 press conference that was postponed.
Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said the bill's unveiling marks a key turning point as Democratic leaders prepare for the floor debate. "The responsibility now shifts to Senator Reid and the White House to work together with a bipartisan group of senators over the next several weeks to craft a comprehensive bill from the various proposals on the table, and bring it to the floor next month," he said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).