Sen. Kerry wavers on backing for cap-and-trade bill in Copenhagen

“I can’t tell you the method or the means, amount, by which we might price carbon. I can’t tell you that. We have not resolved that issue yet,” Kerry said at a press conference after his speech at the international climate summit.

He expressed confidence that the Senate will follow the House in approving a major climate and energy bill, but linked the Senate’s success to international negotiators reaching a deal this week in Copenhagen.

“Success in Copenhagen is really critical to success next year in the United States Senate, in the Congress,” he said.

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Kerry has backed cap-and-trade, which creates a declining nationwide greenhouse gas cap and allows polluters to trade emissions permits to meet their obligations, and this system is at the heart of the sweeping climate bill the House approved in June.

Kerry, who helms the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, co-sponsored cap-and-trade legislation with Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). 

Aside from former Vice President Al Gore, Kerry is the first major political figure from the U.S. to address the summit. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will be in Copenhagen on Thursday, while President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend talks on Friday.

Kerry said there are competing views about whether a carbon tax, cap-and-trade or another method is the best option for controlling emissions. “I can’t sit here and predict it will have the pricing mechanism on carbon that I want,” he said.

The bill Kerry sponsored with Boxer faces huge hurdles, but Kerry is also working with Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on a compromise climate and energy plan that blends emissions curbs with wider offshore oil-and-gas drilling and expanded federal financing for nuclear power plants.

A broadly worded framework the three released last week doesn’t say “cap-and-trade” specifically but strongly suggests it, calling for a “market-based” system with robust carbon market oversight.

At a Dec. 10 press conference in the Capitol about the framework, Lieberman called it the “market-based system for punishing polluters previously known as cap-and-trade."

Update: Kerry clarified his comments during a gaggle with reporters after his on-camera press conference, according to a Kerry aide in Copenhagen. "I'm just telling you there's going to be a movement next year to get something done on this, and I think it's going to include some kind of trading mechanism," Kerry said, according to the aide. Kerry added that there are "plenty of ways to do it."


This post was updated at 4:06 p.m.