By Ben Geman - 05/12/10 11:57 PM EDT
Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on Wednesday unveiled their nearly 1,000-page climate change bill, flanked by environmentalists, religious and ex-military leaders and energy industry officials.
But the glaring absence of a GOP senator underscored the bill’s gloomy future in the 111th Congress.
Kerry hinted that GOP votes are in play, even though co-author Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has pulled back his support.
“I have heard even several Republicans in these last days tell me in private that they are encouraged by what is in this bill, and they are anxious to review it and to work on it,” Kerry said.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) praised the measure and vowed to seek action this year, but acknowledged it will need “significant” bipartisan backing. Reid last year compared moving climate change legislation to a “headache.”
President Barack Obama said, “This legislation will put America on the path to a clean-energy economy that will create American jobs building the solar panels, wind blades and the car batteries of the future.”
But the lukewarm reaction of one senior Democrat is a sign of the bill’s challenges.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he is taking a look at the measure, but noted “we have a big, heavy schedule,” when asked if the committee would work on the bill.
“I am looking at it. We’ll see,” he said. “A factor, frankly, is the degree to which the proposal has legs.”
Marvin Fertel, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute — an industry trade group that backs the bill — told The Hill that he is reaching out to Republicans such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and retiring Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio).
But Fertel acknowledged that time is short: “I think that there is probably a limited amount of time for it to begin to gain some traction, and then it may not be able to go this session, as much as people may want it to.”
Voinovich, who is viewed as a possible swing vote, said the bill was put forward “in good faith and with much thought.” But he also indicated he is leaning against it.
“While I am looking at their proposal, my inclination is to address this issue through more targeted policies that incentivize technology without the huge societal costs imposed by taxing or ‘pricing’ carbon,” he said in a prepared statement.
A huge question hanging over the bill is how much political capital Reid will spend on moving a climate bill this year.
A year ago, Reid said passing healthcare reform was simpler than moving an energy bill: “This may surprise some people, but I think healthcare reform is easier than all this global warming stuff.”
Even though several left-leaning environmental groups, such as Greenpeace and Public Citizen, issued sharply critical statements, a broad swath of green groups backed the measure moving forward while calling for changes to it.
For instance, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) took aim at provisions that would block state cap-and-trade programs and also limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate heat-trapping emissions under existing programs. Other green groups also oppose those limits.
A prepared statement from LCV illustrates the recognition that for all of Kerry and Lieberman’s work, the bill’s political fortunes are out of their hands.
“The responsibility now shifts to President Obama and Majority Leader Reid to work with senators from both parties to pass a strong, comprehensive clean energy and climate bill this summer that creates new jobs, reduces our dependence on oil and protects the planet for future generations,” LCV President Gene Karpinski said in a prepared statement.
The bill has the support of the Edison Electric Institute, a large trade group that represents for-profit utilities, and encouraging statements also poured in from companies including GE, although, like many, the company hedged slightly and said it “supports the process” that Kerry and Lieberman initiated.
Oil giant Shell issued a supportive statement, and Kerry also cited support from BP and ConocoPhillips. The bill’s method for addressing transportation-sector emissions is more to the liking of some refiners, who bitterly opposed the House climate change bill that passed last year.
The Senate plan would keep tailpipe emissions under a nationwide cap, but refiners would buy emissions allowances at fixed prices rather than being subject to the vagaries of the carbon market.
Perhaps the best news Kerry and Lieberman got came from statements that didn’t support the bill at all — but didn’t oppose it, either.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute — two lobbying powerhouses — have lambasted the sweeping House-passed bill. The groups held their fire on the Senate bill, noting they need more time to analyze it.
The Chamber thanked the lawmakers for “their work to constructively engage the business community on these issues.”
Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who helped write the House climate bill, stated, “Sens. Kerry and Lieberman, along with contributions from Sen. Graham, have created an important energy and climate bill that continues the momentum toward putting a final bill on President Obama’s desk this year.”