Kerry: Reid wants a climate bill 'soon'

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said Tuesday that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) remains committed to tackling energy and climate legislation.

"He affirmed he wants a bill and wants a bill soon," Kerry told a climate change conference at the National Press Club.

Kerry said the election of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), which ended Democrats' filibuster-proof 60-vote majority, doesn't change the landscape for the climate bill.

"It was always going to take more than just Democrats to do this," Kerry said.

The comments come amid uncertainty about whether a controversial measure to limit greenhouse gas emissions can gain traction in the Senate.

Kerry is working to craft a bipartisan climate and energy plan with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Kerry said they intend to produce a measure soon but declined to offer a specific timeframe. "We are on a short track here in terms of piecing together legislation we intend to roll out," he said at the event, which was hosted by The New Republic magazine.

Kerry said he's optimistic about the effort despite what are widely viewed as long odds for climate legislation this year.

"I am excited," Kerry said. "I know that's completely counter to conventional wisdom."

Kerry also reiterated that including greenhouse gas limits is vital in his view, casting aside calls for moving ahead with a package of energy measures that omits carbon caps.

Centrist Democrats such as Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Byron Dorgan (N.D.) are calling for what's become known as an "energy-only" approach.

Kerry said measures that don't create a cost to polluters for emitting greenhouse gases will not be enough to drive a transformation to a low-carbon economy.

"An energy-only bill is an escape, it's a cop-out, it's an unwillingness to deal with the reality of what we must achieve," he said.

The Kerry-Graham-Lieberman measure is expected to embrace wider federal support for construction of new nuclear power plants. Nuclear power expansion is popular among Republicans, and the Obama administration is also pushing Congress to increase the amount of loan guarantees available for power companies to build new plants.

Kerry said plans to include major nuclear power support in the bill is "opening up some conversations," but he added, "I don't think it is going to be a clincher for a final bill."

This story was updated at 10:26 a.m.