A leading Senate Republican voice on climate legislation said yesterday that he expects the Senate can pass a resolution handcuffing U.S. EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
"I think it will pass," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "There are a lot of people who will be in the camp of, 'We should do it, not the EPA.'"
Graham is a co-sponsor of the disapproval resolution from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would effectively halt EPA's endangerment finding, the basis for its climate rules for cars and industrial facilities. The resolution, which needs 51 votes to pass, is expected on the floor by the week of June 7.
Murkowski's bid is seen largely as a symbolic one given the resolution's long-shot prospects in the House, as well as an expected veto from President Obama. Still, her effort is considered a critical early proxy for the Senate as Democratic leaders weigh whether they have the votes to pass a more comprehensive climate bill (E&E Daily, May 20).
So far, Murkowski has 41 supporters, including three Democrats: Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Graham said he thinks a majority of senators will ultimately vote for the resolution, though he predicted most would do so with the understanding that a broader bill must pass too that combines climate and energy issues in a manner different from the House-passed climate measure (H.R. 2454).
"Some people will say carbon shouldn't be regulated at all, I think that's the minority view," Graham said. "I think the majority of the body will say that Congress should set the carbon regulations, not the EPA, which gets us back to ... when Congress is going to do it and how we're going to do it. I believe that you'll never regulate carbon without having energy independence, without a more business-friendly framework than Waxman-Markey. That's what we've been trying to do."
Graham helped write climate legislation with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) that was introduced last week, though he dropped out of the closed-door talks just before the unveiling because of an unrelated political fight over immigration.
To the dismay of many environmental groups, the Kerry-Lieberman bill would also prevent EPA from regulating greenhouse gases from industrial sources under many major Clean Air Act programs.
Graham's oil spill demands
Since leaving the Kerry-Lieberman talks, Graham has added to his list of demands for what needs to happen before he returns to the bargaining table. Now, Graham says he also wants a resolution to the uncertainty surrounding the month-old Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
"I know we need to enhance on- and offshore drilling, to make us more energy independent, but I'm not willing to say let's go forward boldly now until I find out what happened," he said.
There are at least a half-dozen investigations under way on the spill. "I just need someone to stop it, tell me what happened, and how we fix it," Graham said. "I don't need 500 people to tell me what happened."
Graham also said he could vote for a Senate energy and climate bill, but he must see offshore drilling provisions he originally negotiated with Kerry and Lieberman added back into the bill. At issue is language stripped out at the behest of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) that would maintain a 2006 law to keep rigs 125 to 235 miles off Florida's Gulf coast.
"They took the eastern Gulf provisions and dramatically changed that. I couldn't live with that," Graham said.
"I wouldn't be the 60th vote for the drilling provisions in this bill, but I could be the 60th vote for this concept if it gets back to where it was before," he added. "But I'm looking for more than 60 votes. You're either going to get 40 votes or probably 70 votes."
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said yesterday he was confused by Graham's demands for what needs to be done to win his vote on the climate bill.
"I can't keep up with his various conditions," Bingaman said.
Bingaman also found fault with Graham's reasoning that the climate bill needs to be put on hold while the Gulf of Mexico oil spill investigations continue. "I think the issue of what we do on climate change, putting a limit on emission on greenhouse gas emissions and a requirement that that be reduced, that can be done without some conclusion about this oil spill in the Gulf," he said.
"I favor plugging the leak. I favor stopping the spill. But it's hard to say why the failure to complete the investigation of that spill would be a justification for not limiting greenhouse gas emissions," Bingaman added. "It seems to me a stretch."
Isakson likes nuclear projections
The Kerry-Lieberman bill includes first-ever caps on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a raft of incentives to promote domestic oil, gas and nuclear power production. According to a study released yesterday by the nonpartisan Peterson Institute for International Economics, the legislation would spawn 68 gigawatts of new nuclear power production due to $36 billion in loan guarantees and a 10 percent investment tax credit for plants that are in operation by 2025. That means nuclear power would account for 15 percent of power generation capacity by 2030, compared to 10 percent today (Greenwire, May 20).
Those findings pleased Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), a leading nuclear power advocate. "That's a good start," he said. "I don't know if it's doable, but it's a great step in the right direction."
Isakson also left wide open the prospect that he could support the energy and climate bill, though first he pledged to read it.
"I'm open if we can expand access to nuclear and other renewables and turn America loose to develop its resources, then I'd be for it," Isakson said. "But I'm not going to be for it until I read all of the bill what I'd do one way or another."
Kerry, Lieberman and other Democratic allies are using the next month to round up votes on their climate and energy bill, with an eye on the business lobby to help sway moderates on both sides of the aisle.
"We're trying to see how the support networks respond to the bill that's out there, to see whether we can get broader support in Congress," said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). "We don't have enough votes right now."
Graham said the next month would be critical depending on the public statements from senators and interest groups, as well as the EPA modeling. "Every week that goes by, if people don't sign up, that's a bad thing," Graham said. "If people show an interest, that's a good thing. The political market will tell us after the modeling is done."