Climate talks speed up -- but no bill yet

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are working outside the committee process, at least for now. But Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) told reporters he might hold a committee markup if their effort gains traction.

“If it’s a viable bill, we’ll have a markup,” Baucus said in the Capitol. 

The Finance Committee has jurisdiction over several climate issues, including trade provisions that would likely accompany domestic greenhouse gas limits.

Lawmakers are weighing “carbon tariffs” and other measures to prevent U.S. manufacturers from being undercut by competitors in countries without strong emissions controls.

Overall, Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are writing a bill that includes a cap-and-trade system imposed on utilities, with manufacturing and other industrial plants brought under emissions limits at a later date. For motor fuels, they plan to address emissions through some kind of consumer tax or fee.

They are planning to boost federal support for new nuclear power plants and “clean” coal projects, and also plan to endorse wider offshore oil-and-gas development.

Kerry said Tuesday that the trio will not produce draft legislation this week. The senators had earlier said that a draft might emerge before the spring recess that begins March 29.

Kerry said the they are making progress but still receiving input on the measure. The three senators have been holding a series of meetings with colleagues, industry groups and environmentalists.

“This will be the first time that we have sort of gone through an overall sense of where we think we are right now, but it is not cast in stone yet either,” Kerry told reporters Tuesday about the meeting with other senators slated for the late afternoon. “We expect in the next days to kind of really close in on some concepts, but we have a lot of meetings going on right now.”

If Kerry’s effort doesn’t gain traction, a big question remains whether the Senate will take up, as a stand-alone measure, a broad energy bill the Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved last June. Senate Democratic leaders are keeping that option in the mix.

That bill includes new support for energy efficiency, renewable power and allows wider Gulf of Mexico oil drilling. But it does not include mandatory emissions limits, which face widespread GOP resistance.

Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) sponsored that bill and wants it to proceed – either with climate provisions in tow or on its own. “In some form it should come to the Senate floor for consideration, either by itself or combined with some other things,” he told The Hill Tuesday. “That will be the decision Senator Reid makes.”

Kerry, for his part, believes Reid is committed to advancing a bill that includes greenhouse gas limits. “He has said repeatedly that we are going to do the combination of climate and energy,” Kerry said.