By Alexander Bolton and Ben Geman - 06/08/10 12:40 AM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are headed for a clash over energy and climate legislation.
Reid is poised to move an energy bill to the Senate floor that would not include a controversial proposal to cap carbon emissions, according to one of his deputies.
She put a sweeping energy and climate bill atop her agenda for the 111th Congress, passing it through the House before healthcare reform.
Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership and a close ally of Reid’s, said Monday that climate legislation would not be part of the bill that came to the Senate floor.
Schumer said the climate proposal crafted by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) would be offered as an amendment to an energy bill based largely on legislation devised by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).
The Bingaman proposal would be “the base bill upon which John Kerry will seek to add this bill,” Schumer said on MSNBC Monday morning.
“Kerry has a proposal that has pretty broad support,” Schumer added. “He’s going — in my opinion — going to get a chance to offer it in the form of an amendment.”
It is unlikely, however, that such an amendment can attract 60 votes.
Schumer later softened his statement through a spokesman, who said his boss was speculating and not speaking for Reid.
A Reid spokeswoman declined to comment.
Pelosi isn’t budging from her pledge to send a bill that curbs carbon emissions to President Barack Obama’s desk in 2010.
“The Speaker remains committed to sending a comprehensive bill to the president this year,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.
A House Democratic leadership aide said legislation must include a cap on carbon to fit under Pelosi’s definition of “comprehensive.”
The leadership aide said the difference over whether to restrict carbon emissions could come down to a battle in conference negotiations between the Senate and House.
“I would assume we would have flexibility to go to conference with nearly any provision,” said the aide.
House negotiators would attempt to include a carbon cap in those negotiations, but adding such a broad provision that had not already passed the Senate could be met with stiff resistance from the upper chamber.
Schumer’s remarks on Monday sparked alarm among liberal and environmental groups, which have panned Bingaman’s proposal. They also say that leaving a cap on carbon emissions out of the broader energy bill that comes to the Senate floor will make it more difficult to address global climate change in a meaningful way.
“There are certainly a significant number of groups who want to see the Kerry cap in the bill from the beginning,” said David Hamilton, director of global warming and energy programs at the Sierra Club.
“The Bingaman energy-only bill is going to be looked at as unambitious and insufficient,” Hamilton said.
Bingaman has touted his bill as a bipartisan solution that will shift the nation to cleaner sources of energy.
He claims it would accelerate the introduction of clean-energy technologies and help businesses grow through clean-energy project financing.
Schumer’s prediction shocked environmental groups because Reid had said the question of whether to include a carbon cap in the energy bill would be decided at a meeting of Senate Democratic committee chairmen this week and a meeting of the entire Democratic Conference next week.
“It does surprise me that Sen. Schumer would offer a lowest-common-denominator proposal before Reid has worked out the process,” said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress. “Sen. Schumer predicting the outcome could be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that’s very disappointing.”
Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon downplayed his boss’s comments.
“To the senator’s knowledge, no decisions have been made yet on the floor strategy for legislation addressing the nation’s urgent energy challenges, nor is it his decision to make,” said Fallon. “Sen. Schumer speculated on one procedural option, but make no mistake: He believes climate change legislation is vital to our nation’s energy security and looks forward to voting for it.”
Fallon added that Schumer is working with his colleagues to “get the strongest, most comprehensive bill possible.”
Some in the House are chafing at the thought that the tough vote they cast to narrowly pass an ambitious energy and climate bill in June of last year may be wasted by the Senate’s inaction.
Many politically vulnerable Democrats in the lower chamber have already attracted criticism for that vote on the campaign trail, conjuring painful memories of the political fallout from a proposed BTU tax in 1993.
That year, House Democrats passed an energy tax pushed by then-President Bill Clinton by similarly narrow margins that went nowhere in the Senate.
Republicans stumped on the issue the following year when they captured control of the House and Senate in a tidal-wave election.
Senate Democrats have failed to muster any Republican support for Kerry’s carbon-cap plan.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) withdrew his backing in April and has criticized the bill’s provisions on offshore oil drilling.
Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.), another Republican whom lobbyists had viewed as a potential co-sponsor, has also come out against Kerry’s bill.
An aide to Lugar said that Kerry’s plan doesn’t have enough votes to pass and that his boss’s bill meets half of Obama’s goal for reducing emissions.
Lugar will hold a press conference this week on his proposed alternative to Kerry’s bill.
Kerry and Lieberman, however, still believe their proposal is on the table for inclusion in the broader energy bill.
“We believe we’re right on track as the leadership devises the best process to ensure passage of comprehensive climate and energy legislation and appreciate Sen. Schumer’s compliment of the work that’s been done and the broad support we’ve secured,” said Kerry spokeswoman Whitney Smith.