Senators offer Copenhagen boost

Senators offer Copenhagen boost

The three senators released a broadly worded "framework" of their plan to blend emissions caps with wider offshore oil-and-gas drilling, expanded federal support for nuclear power and other measures.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called the framework a "significant step" and said Obama believes it shows movement towards reaching a bipartisan Senate agreement.

The framework backs a 2020 target “in the range” of 17 percent below 2005 emission levels by 2020. That’s the same phrasing U.S. officials are floating in Copenhagen.

The number is below the 20 percent level in the major climate bill co-sponsored by Kerry and Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Billionaire Steyer to push for Dem House push Billionaire Steyer announces million for Dem House push MORE (D-Calif.).

Lieberman said the three have been in talks with chairmen of the various committees that oversee climate and energy, and other members on both sides of the aisle.

They don't have the 60 Senate votes needed to advance a bill yet, but there is a deal to be made, Lieberman said.

“There are well over 60 votes that are in play,” he said at a press conference in the Capitol with Graham and Kerry, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee.

The three included the framework in a letter to Obama on Thursday.

“As you depart for Copenhagen, we wanted to provide an assessment of where we see the debate heading in the United States Senate,” they wrote. Obama will attend the close of the Copenhagen negotiations Dec. 18.

The framework could at least partially address what has been a problem for the U.S. in the run-up to Copenhagen: the absence of a final U.S. law that commits the country to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

A cap-and-trade bill has been moving slowly in the Senate, where there is significant resistance, following narrow House passage in late June. However, administration officials have cited the congressional action to date as evidence of progress, and also highlighted other U.S. policies, such as the large "clean" energy investments in the recent stimulus law.

The framework backs development and deployment of low-emissions coal technology. It also promises inclusion of measures to protect U.S. industries, provisions that will be “compatible” with U.S. World Trade Organization obligations.

But Lieberman declined to say if this was an endorsement of so-called carbon tariffs that allow penalties on imports from nations that do not require major emissions cuts a well. “That is going to be a very active area of negotiation,” he said. Such tariffs are authorized in the sweeping climate bill the House approved in June, but Obama voiced skepticism about the concept at the time.

Senators from states with large manufacturing bases, such as Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Commerce sends Trump long-awaited steel report GOP Rep. Jim Renacci announces Ohio Senate bid MORE (D-Ohio), are insisting on these provisions.

The framework lacks details about where the plan might allow new offshore drilling, what level of federal loan guarantees for nuclear power plants it may provide and other specifics.

Reid plans to bring a climate and energy package before the Senate next spring. Kerry said the framework would send a message to the Copenhagen talks.

The Copenhagen talks are aimed at crafting a broad international accord on emissions cuts and finance for developing nations to fight climate change. But efforts to craft a formal international treaty have been shelved until next year.

Kerry also said the lack of specifics in the framework is an effort to respect the work that several committees still plan to undertake on climate and energy. "We don't want to jump ahead of the committee process," Kerry said.

Boxer's committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee have approved major portions of the Senate climate and energy bill. But other committees — including the powerful Finance Committee that will oversee trade and emissions allocation provisions — have yet to weigh in.

Graham, meanwhile, sought to downplay what has been widespread GOP resistance to cap-and-trade legislation. Republican leaders call it a "cap-and-tax" plan that will cost jobs.

But Graham emphasized the job-creating potential of projects like new nuclear power plants, and also said that any bill will have to be good for business or it will not pass anyway.