Alexander hints at interest in climate

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) said Sunday that lawmakers could advance energy and climate legislation by adopting a step-by-step approach that eschews sweeping measures.

Alexander’s comments appear to indicate that he’s keeping an open mind about the climate and energy plan that Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are crafting.

Their plan is expected to differ substantially from the “economy-wide” cap and trade bill the House approved last year that Alexander opposes, although it is nonetheless expected to be broad in scope.

Alexander said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday that “a lot more is going on than one would think” in the Senate, and noted the bipartisan climate effort and other bills.

“Senator Carper, a Democrat, and I introduced a clean air bill with 11 Democrats and Republicans. We hope we can pass it this year. Senator Webb, a Democrat, and I . . . have introduced a nuclear power bill. Senator Graham, Kerry, and Lieberman are working on a climate change bill,” Alexander said.

“So if you take specific steps toward goals, we're more likely to succeed,” he added. Alexander’s remarks came in an interview that focused heavily on health care – he has called for a more piecemeal approach than the comprehensive Democratic plans.

Alexander and Delaware’s Tom Carper are pushing legislation that would require steep cuts in power plant emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, but does not address greenhouse gases.

Alexander has also sponsored a measure with Virginia Democrat Jim Webb that would greatly expand federal loan support for building nuclear power plants.

Kerry recently said the climate and energy proposal he’s crafting with Graham and Lieberman will surface soon. The three are reviewing various options.

Graham and others have suggested that one possibility is limiting the cap and trade portion to power plants (although the lawmakers are increasingly loath to use the phrase “cap and trade”) while imposing other types of controls on other sectors.

The Washington Post reported in Saturday’s paper that the three are exploring a plan that would impose an emissions cap on power plants, carbon taxes on transportation fuels, and phase in limits on other industrial sectors over time.

A Kerry aide said Saturday that their plans remain fluid. “Our legislation will include national targets for reducing carbon and a mechanism for pricing carbon. A number of different ways to price carbon are on the table and we're trying to find the one that works best,” said Whitney Smith, a spokeswoman for Kerry, in an email.

The question of how to address emissions from transportation fuels remains a big one.

The oil industry has strongly opposed the broad House cap and trade bill, which holds refiners responsible for obtaining emissions allowances to cover tailpipe emissions from the use of their products in transportation.

 As we noted here, some refiners have been pushing for a plan that essentially keeps their products outside a cap and trade program, and instead would address their emissions through a consumer fee on motor fuels.

In fact, refiners' displeasure with their treatment under the big cap and trade proposals to date is a big reason why oil giants BP and ConocoPhillips announced in mid-February that they’re quitting the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP). The group is a coalition of some environmental groups, power companies, automakers and other corporations that support cap and trade.

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are also expected to include several energy measures aimed at attracting centrist Democrats and Republicans, including expanded federal support for building nuclear plants, and wider offshore drilling.


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