Sen. Kerry: 'Powerful interests' standing in the way of progress on energy

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) says the collapse of the climate change and energy bill he floated with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in 2010 is a lesson in why the United States lacks a comprehensive energy policy.

The senator took aim at coal-reliant power companies and the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC that allows unlimited corporate spending in elections.

“The reason we don’t have a solid energy policy in America, I have come to believe after leading the effort two years ago to try and get one, is that there are powerful interests in the country that spend an enormous amount of money to preserve the status quo,” Kerry said Friday on MSNBC's “Morning Joe.”

“We had an agreement a couple years ago ... with the utilities, with the nuclear industry, with the major oil people, and unfortunately some major coal-fired power plant people were able to spend a lot of money, influence a lot of people and say we are simply not going to move forward with pricing carbon or doing anything that puts America into a better position because they like the cash-cow power plants that they have now fired by coal, and so that’s what freezes it,” he added.

Kerry and Lieberman’s bill never received a vote amid opposition from Republicans and some Democrats. It would have set greenhouse gas emissions caps and also contained various provisions to spur low-carbon energy production, such as expanded loan guarantees for nuclear power plants.

The measure also provided a number of concessions to various industries, such as fixed emissions allowance prices for refiners (although it still drew opposition from the refining industry's main trade group).

The plan drew supportive statements from some companies and groups, such as oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, the Nuclear Energy Institute, Duke Energy, NRG Energy and Dow Chemical, but it never won buy-in from broader coal and oil lobbying interests that are influential on Capitol Hill.

Kerry, in the MSNBC interview, said there’s too much money sloshing around politics to enact a sweeping energy plan.

“So you have gridlock in Washington, mostly because of the amount of money in the system,” he said. “I’m telling you, Citizens United is robbing America of its democratic process, it is stealing the agenda, and it is allowing the largest amount of money to set the agenda.”