Sen. Collins suggests attaching her climate-change legislation to energy bill

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Friday that lawmakers should consider attaching the climate change bill she co-sponsored with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to separate energy legislation on the Senate floor.

Such a move would bypass the broad energy and climate plan that Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) plan to unveil next month.

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That Senate trio has vowed to fold elements of the Cantwell-Collins “cap and dividend” plan introduced last year – which is called the CLEAR Act – into their long-awaited bill.

But Collins noted in an interview with the Clean Skies network that while she and Cantwell “wait with great interest” to see what Kerry, Graham and Lieberman come up with, the trio has yet to produce an actual bill.

“Another option is for an energy bill, there is a bipartisan energy bill with Senators Bingaman and Murkowski, to be brought to the Senate floor, and we could add the CLEAR Act to that bill, that might be a way to proceed as well,” Collins said.

Collins is referring to broad energy legislation that the Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved last June.

That measure – which Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) wants brought to the floor – includes new support for energy efficiency and imposes a national renewable electricity mandate.

 The bill also expands oil-and-gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. But it does not include limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

The CLEAR Act that Cantwell and Collins are pushing would set limits on “upstream” sources of carbon dioxide – oil-and-gas producers, coal companies and petroleum importers – entering the U.S. economy, and return the bulk of the money from federal auctions of carbon permits to consumers directly. It would also place very tight restrictions on carbon permit trading that freeze Wall Street banks out of the emissions trading market.

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman plan to use a different approach that includes, among other things, a cap-and-trade system for power plants and fees on oil companies to address motor fuel greenhouse gas emissions.

They say some ideas on consumer refunds and carbon trading restrictions will be drawn from the Cantwell-Collins plan, but have not provided specifics. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hopes to bring energy and climate legislation to the floor this year, but what the Senate might take up – and when – remains in flux.