Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) went on the offensive yesterday in favor of their global warming legislation set for Senate floor debate next week, attacking environmentalists critical of their plan's nuclear power incentives and questioning a less-aggressive alternative offered by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).
Speaking candidly with reporters, McCain and Lieberman said they would not support global warming legislation that is less aggressive than their bill's call to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2010. They fired specific criticism at Bingaman's plan to set a cap on greenhouse gases in relationship to economic growth rather than an outright limit.
The Bingaman effort does not move toward meaningful reductions of greenhouse emissions until well into the next decade while also allowing carbon-intensive industries to "buy their way out" of the system thanks to a $7 per ton limit on the price of pollution allowances, Lieberman said.
"There is no middleground," McCain said. "You've got to have an immediate effort to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Anything less than that is a fig leaf and a joke."
McCain and Lieberman also took aim at environmental and public interest groups and other lawmakers who in recent days have urged the senators to drop a new technology provision that would spur the construction of the first U.S. nuclear power plants in 30 years.
Sierra Club, U.S. PIRG and some 250 international, U.S. and local groups expressed opposition yesterday to trading new nuclear plants for the first-ever greenhouse gas limits. McCain and Lieberman responded by arguing that the nation's current aging nuclear fleet needs to be replaced with a carbon-free source of electricity as an option.
Moreover, McCain said environmental groups are losing their influence on Capitol Hill because of their unwillingness to compromise. "With all due respect to our friends at PIRG, they're the classic example of you have to have it their way or you jump off," he said.
McCain and Lieberman would not speculate about their prospects for winning next week's potential amendment vote, though they did acknowledge they would have little chance of gaining acceptance by the GOP-led House and the Bush administration. McCain last week said he anticipates his plan may gain "closer to 50" supporters, an increase over the 43-55 vote the last time the Senate debated climate change in 2003.
Bingaman says he will step back if McCain-Lieberman wins
Speaking to reporters at a separate event yesterday, Bingaman said he supports the McCain and Lieberman bill. But his plan, he explained, was modeled after the work of the National Commission on Energy Policy as an alternative. "If McCain-Lieberman passes, then ours wouldn't be offered," Bingaman said.
The Bingaman approach, while criticized by McCain and Lieberman, appears to have traction and is being considered by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.). Sources tracking the issue say Domenici's support for Bingaman's greenhouse gas amendment is vital for its chances of success and could potentially lead to a majority of support in the GOP-led Senate.
"If Bingaman can't get Domenici or some meaningful cosponsors, he'll probably let McCain-Lieberman go down and that will be that," one industry source closely tied to the debate said yesterday.
Domenici first linked himself to the global warming issue last week, and he has since been talking with the White House about possible amendments. The industry source said Domenici is trying to find a way to give industries the incentive to continue making business decisions where they can gain credit for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, without seeking a major modification in the Bush administration's long-stated goal to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gases related to U.S. economic growth by 18 percent by 2012.
"I can't tell you anything other than we are working with a lot of people," Domenici told reporters yesterday. He added that talks will continue through the weekend. "I am working off [the Bingaman plan] to see if there's anything else we can do. I am not saying I am for that."
The issue of business certainty proved to be a theme on Capitol Hill, as Senate Democrats met yesterday with top executives from GE Energy and DuPont, two companies that believe U.S. industries should be operating in a carbon-constrained economy. Bingaman and Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) met with reporters after the session and praised the companies' efforts.
GE Energy President and Chief Executive Officer John Rice, in a brief interview, said he was open to any of the amendments that will be offered next week, including McCain-Lieberman, Bingaman and a plan from Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) that provides financial incentives for new technology in the United States and developing countries that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. "We're not picking a side because, quite frankly, we see positive elements in all of them," Rice said.
Senate Republicans yesterday offered several different perspectives on the prospects of a global warming amendment materializing next week. Asked for a reaction if Domenici were to align himself with Bingaman, Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) said only, "I would hope not."
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) provided a different perspective. The senator said she has been lobbied by the energy policy commission on the matter but has not yet made up her mind. "I've taken a very serious look at it," Murkowski said of the report that Bingaman is using as the basis for his legislation.
In the interview, Murkowski said she is concerned about the effects of global warming on Alaska even as scientists in her state offer varying opinions on its ultimate cause and effect. "Where I've arrived is it's not reasonable to sit back and do nothing at all," she said.
Murkowski was less insistent that Senate support for Bingaman's plan would require Bush to change his approach, arguing that the administration's voluntary intensity plan to bring down greenhouse gas intensity should also be given time to see if it works. "Is this something where we have to convince the administration? I don't think so," she said.
Reporter Ben Geman contributed to this story.