Sen. John KerryJohn KerryIran’s nuclear deal just the tip of the iceberg for Trump Trump needs to stand firm on immigration, 'religious-test' insticts Budowsky: Ellison, Kerry to DNC? MORE (D-Mass.) is urging climate change activists to match the intensity of their conservative opponents as he struggles to keep the issue on the election-year agenda.
“I want you to go out there and start knocking on doors and talking to people and telling people, ‘This has to happen!’ ” Kerry said at a forum hosted by environmentalists, veterans and others Wednesday.
He added: “That’s something worth getting angry about. And I think it’s time for people to do that.”
Kerry, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, has claimed ownership of climate legislation for the Democrats. He has stepped outside the committee process to negotiate a compromise package of emissions caps and energy measures with Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamA Cabinet position for Petraeus; disciplinary actions for Broadwell after affair Pentagon should have a civilian chief to give peace a chance Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington MORE (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
His speech Wednesday is part of a flurry of activity as Kerry tries to keep climate change legislation — once a top priority for Capitol Hill Democrats — afloat in 2010.
The trio of senators has held a slew of meetings, including sessions with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel last week. The three legislators also engaged in talks Tuesday with Sens. Maria CantwellMaria CantwellOvernight Energy: Dakota pipeline standoff heats up Obama rescinds Arctic offshore drilling proposal Overnight Energy: Hopes rise for Flint aid MORE (D-Wash.) and Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSenators crafting bill to limit deportations under Trump Cornyn: ‘Virtual certainty’ Sessions and Price will be confirmed Trump's wrong to pick Bannon or Sessions for anything MORE (R-Maine), who are sponsoring a competing plan.
But while emissions caps have been embraced by the White House and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, prospects for climate legislation remain highly uncertain. Democrats are still reeling from Republican Scott Brown’s stunning win in Kerry’s home state, and they’re focusing heavily on the economy and jobs.
Kerry and other backers say the climate bill would help on both fronts (and that doing nothing ultimately costs more), but Republican and industry opponents of cap-and-trade say it’s a job-killer.
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidTrump gets chance to remake the courts Democrats local party problem Trump flirts with Dems for Cabinet MORE (D-Nev.), who is facing a challenging reelection race, has sent mixed signals on climate change. At one point, he called moving the bill “a headache.” But Reid said in mid-January that he plans to bring a “comprehensive” climate and energy bill to the floor this spring.
Beth Viola, who advised Kerry in his 2004 presidential run, said, “I think [Kerry] is fiery because he feels really passionately about the fact that we have a real global crisis — the economic impacts as well as the environmental impacts are potentially quite significant.
“I suspect he is probably pretty anxious to see people make the case for the legislation as loudly as those who are making the case against it,” added Viola, who worked on environmental issues in the Clinton White House and is now a senior adviser with Holland & Knight.
Kerry has an aggressive agenda for his committee this year. But the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, who was criticized by the GOP that year for his lack of big-ticket legislative accomplishments, has zeroed in on climate change.
The 66-year-old senator sharpened his tone in several ways during his speech on Wednesday. While he laid out familiar arguments that climate and energy legislation will help expand U.S. alternative-energy sectors and boost private investment, he also injected a hint of populism.
But Kerry’s task is complex because he has concluded that winning emissions limits will require several concessions to industry and Republicans. The plan he is crafting with Graham and Lieberman will likely contain an expansion of offshore drilling and large new subsidies for building nuclear power plants.
Indeed, Graham on Wednesday emphasized the need for a business-friendly approach.
The South Carolina Republican called the sweeping cap-and-trade bill the House approved — and a similar plan that Kerry himself co-sponsored with Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTrucking riders ‘in the mix’ for short-term spending bill Lawmakers praise defense bill's National Guard bonus fix Schumer’s elevation to leader spells trouble for Democrats MORE (D-Calif.) — dead on arrival.
“The climate change legislation passed by the House of Representatives and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is too onerous on business and does not enjoy bipartisan support,” Graham said.
“My goal is to continue working with Sens. Kerry, Lieberman and my Senate colleagues to create a new pathway forward that focuses on a more robust energy security package and a more business-friendly climate legislation,” he continued.
Many large environmental groups have signaled that they’re open to compromises to win long-sought limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
But compounding Kerry's challenge is that a number of centrist Senate Democrats – including Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) – want the chamber to take up a package of energy measures that omits emissions caps. They’re eyeing a bill the Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved in June.
That broad bill includes new renewable energy requirements, expanded federal financing for low-carbon energy technologies, wider Gulf of Mexico oil-and-gas drilling and several energy efficiency programs.
Sen. Mark PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE (D-Ark.) signaled his support for the “energy-only” approach Wednesday. “I would probably prefer just an energy bill, but what I have told everybody is I will be patient and listen and see what they come up with. If it does have climate change in it, I will wait and see what’s in there,” he said.