Enviros: ‘Energy-only’ plan doesn’t cut it

Big environmental groups are ramping up pressure on the Senate not to take up energy legislation that omits mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

In a letter to the Senate Thursday, 14 groups argue that a limit on carbon dioxide emissions is “indispensable.”

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“This limit, in combination with strong energy policies, is crucial for creating the powerful economic incentives required to unlock the investment and ingenuity that will drive large-scale job creation, ensure pollution reduction, and advance energy independence,” states the letter.

Backers of the letter include the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Blue Green Alliance, the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Lawmakers including Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) are pushing an “energy-only” approach that boosts alternative energy, nuclear power and domestic drilling, but steers clear of mandatory emissions limits.

Jeremy Symons of NWF criticized what he dubbed the “miracle grow” strategy some senators are advocating. “They want to water down energy reform and hope for a miracle to grow the clean energy economy,” he said.

It remains unclear whether a climate bill – which faces big hurdles – will win a spot on the Senate’s election-year agenda.

The letter comes amid an effort by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) to craft a compromise climate and energy bill that can garner 60 votes. The sweeping “economy-wide” cap-and-trade plan the House approved falls well short of that.

Kerry said last week that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is pressuring the group to produce legislation soon.

The three lawmakers hope to combine emissions limits with concessions to gain support from Republicans and centrist Democrats – including major new federal support for nuclear power and sequestering carbon emissions from coal plants, as well as expanded offshore drilling.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that the trio is planning a measure that would apply different types of requirements on power plants, transportation fuels, and industrial emissions.

According to the Post account, the senators' plan would impose an overall cap on power plant emissions, while motor fuels would be subject to a carbon tax. Other industrial sources like factories would be exempt from emissions limits for several years before one is phased in, the paper reported.

Keeping emissions from gasoline and other transportation fuels outside of a cap-and-trade program could be an olive branch to the oil industry and allied senators.

Oil companies have long alleged that the major House and Senate climate plans to date would harm refiners, who would have to obtain emissions allowances to cover use of their fuels in cars and trucks.