Kerry says Copenhagen key to paving the way for U.S. law on emission cuts

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said at the Copenhagen climate summit Wednesday that reaching an international accord at the talks would pave the way for a final U.S. emissions-cutting law.

Kerry said he is highly confident the Senate can pass a bill — if negotiators at the contentious talks craft a plan that ensures verifiable emissions curbs in nations like China and India.

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“Success in Copenhagen is really critical to success next year in the United States Senate, in the Congress,” he said at a press briefing after addressing the conference.

The talks are scheduled to culminate Friday, when President Barack Obama and scores of other heads of state will be in attendance.

Kerry is a key architect in Senate efforts to craft a law that mandates deep cuts in U.S. emissions, following House passage of a sweeping climate and energy bill in June.

But Kerry, at the same press briefing, said the shape of Senate plans remains in flux. He cited the importance of creating a cost for emitting carbon dioxide, but added that the mechanism remains under discussion.

“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.

Kerry, according to an aide, later clarified his comments to underscore that “it’s going to include some kind of trading mechanism.”

But his comments nonetheless underscore the fluid nature of discussions among lawmakers who are struggling to craft a package that can attract 60 Senate votes.

Kerry has co-sponsored a so-called cap-and-trade plan with Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Cap-and-trade establishes a declining nationwide ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions and allows polluters to trade emissions permits and use offsets — that is, funding climate-friendly projects such as forest preservation — to meet their emissions limits.

Cap-and-trade is at the heart of the sweeping energy and climate bill the House approved in June.

But a number of competing proposals have emerged in the Senate, including plans aimed at appeasing concerns among lawmakers about creating a sprawling emissions trading market that could provide a bonanza for Wall Street banks.



Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) last week unveiled a plan that severely constrains the trading of emissions permits and keeps banks on the outside of the primary trading market, among many other differences with the major Democratic plans.


Other Capitol Hill discussions have included the idea of a cap-and-trade plan applied only to the power-plant sector, while separate policies would be used to address emissions from factories, vehicles and other sources.

Kerry is 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 senators 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 about the framework, Lieberman called it the “market-based system for punishing polluters previously known as cap-and-trade.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to bring a climate and energy bill to the floor in the spring. An aide declined to address questions about the bill’s specific mechanism for controlling emissions.

“The Senate will consider comprehensive legislation in the spring that creates jobs, reduces pollution, increases energy independence and provides stable funding for clean energy development,” the aide said, adding, “Sen. Reid looks forward to talking with Sens. Kerry and Graham on their progress in preparing a bipartisan bill that has broad support.”

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A former Senate aide close to the Capitol Hill discussions said Kerry’s comment that the mechanism to price carbon is unresolved is an effort to keep as many senators in play as possible. “I think he is trying to be deferential to all the different ideas out there. He is trying to be a broker,” this source said. “If he dismisses them outright, nobody is going to want to play.”

Daniel J. Weiss of the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund likewise said there is little reason for Kerry to provide details about his plans until a “critical mass” of senators is on board. “My guess is that he is keeping his cards close to the vest until he has more chips in his stack,” Weiss said.

Aside from former Vice President Al Gore, Kerry was the first major political figure from the U.S. to address the summit. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton  is slated to take part in the talks Thursday, to be followed by Obama’s Friday attendance.

But this week Obama was already in touch with heads of state from countries including the U.K., France and Bangladesh as negotiators try to negotiate a thicket of contentious issues.

At press time it remained unclear whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would lead a House delegation to the talks.