CLIMATE:

Schumer sees Kerry-Lieberman plan reaching floor as amendment to energy-only bill

A Senate proposal setting up a cap-and-trade program to curtail greenhouse gas emissions likely will be offered on the floor later this summer as an amendment to a smaller, energy-only approach, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said today.

Appearing on MSNBC, Schumer said he expects Senate Democratic leaders to use legislation from Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) as the base proposal to launch the floor debate. "It's going to be a good strong energy bill, and I think it's going to have new life," said Schumer, the third highest-ranking Senate Democrat.

As for climate change, Schumer predicted Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) would have a chance to win 60 votes on their plan during the floor debate on the underlying Bingaman bill.

"Kerry has a proposal that has pretty broad support; it has the environmental groups and the energy companies, etc.," Schumer said. "And of course, the extreme people on each side say it's not good enough. But he's done a damn good job, and he's going to, in my opinion, get a chance to offer that amendment, and we'll see if it has the votes."

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declined comment on the strategy outlined today by Schumer. Reid meets Thursday with Democratic committee leaders, including Kerry and Bingaman, to map out a plan for the climate change and energy issues ahead of a floor debate scheduled during the summertime work period that runs from July 12 until the August recess.

Top Democrats have been suggesting for months that Reid build the energy debate around Bingaman's bill given the uncertainty over whether Kerry and Lieberman could muscle together 60 votes on their proposal, also known as the "American Power Act" (E&ENews PM, April 27). Kerry and Lieberman originally had a key Republican ally in Sen. Lindsey Graham, but the South Carolina senator distanced himself from their effort in mid-April after Reid signaled plans to also put immigration atop the Senate agenda this year.

Tackling climate change on the Senate floor via amendment isn't a new strategy. Lieberman and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) forced floor votes on their cap-and-trade bill during debate in 2003 and 2005 over standalone energy legislation, losing 43-55 and then 38-60, respectively.

Bingaman's bill (S. 1462), approved last June on a 15-8 committee vote, 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.

Whether or not a Gulf of Mexico leasing plan remains in the Bingaman bill is an open question considering the public outcry following the BP PLC oil spill that has caused havoc in the region since late April. Last week, Reid ordered eight Democratic committee leaders to produce their ideas related to the oil spill so they can be folded into the energy legislation headed to the floor.

Schumer said he expected the energy bill to include provisions raising the $75 million cap on an oil company's liability for economic damages caused by an offshore spill -- both past and future spills. And he called for "real constraints" on deepwater drilling below 5,000 feet, "which is a lot different than drilling at 1,000 feet."

On nuclear power, Schumer said he expected the energy bill that hits the floor to include provisions to expand the nation's fleet of power plants, even in the shadow of continued safety concerns. "You've got to be real careful, because if you screw up, you're going to pay the price," he said. "But do it. If people want to take that endeavor, they should."

The Kerry-Lieberman bill would set mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions for electric utilities, petroleum refiners and major industrial manufacturers. It also includes incentives for the construction of new nuclear power plants and allows states to share in the revenue earned if they approve oil and gas drilling off their coasts.

Click here to watch Sen. Chuck Schumer on MSNBC.

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