Senate climate update: Meetings and meetings but no text in sight


White House climate czar Carol Browner was also spotted around Reid’s office at the time of the meeting.

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman (or at least a subset of them) are slated to meet with industry trade groups -- including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce --  again Thursday as they seek to keep a climate and energy package on the Senate's 2010 agenda.

Here are a few tidbits from Wednesday’s action:

* No big decisions came out of the meeting with Reid. “I think Senator Reid is trying to get [as sense of] where everybody is, and we all talked about it,” Bingaman said after exiting the meeting. “There was a general discussion about how we would proceed.”

“The first thing of course is to see what their bill says,” he added, referring to the Kerry-led effort.

Bingaman has been in a hurry-up-and-wait position for quite some time. His committee passed a broad energy bill he sponsored way back in June that Democratic leaders had hoped to pair with greenhouse gas provisions on the Senate floor.

But it remains to be seen if the Senate will proceed with that energy bill if the nascent effort by Kerry, Graham and Lieberman (or KGL, as the trio has become known in energy policy circles) doesn’t gain traction.

Bingaman has long supported imposing limits on greenhouse gas emissions, but at this point wants action on the bill his committee passed.

Bingaman told reporters that he used the meeting to make the case for moving his bill – with or without climate provisions. “I advocated that either as a separate bill or in combination with other things, it clearly should come to the floor,” he said.

“I don’t think,” he added, “leadership has ruled out anything.”

* Graham to reporters on timing: “We will hopefully have this all put together and announce something after the break.” EPA analyses of their measure are expected to take over a month, so Democratic plans to get a bill on the floor this spring seem remote.

* Freshman Democrat Mark Begich (Alaska), who is considered a swing vote on climate change, said he likes what he sees thus far on offshore drilling provisions that the KGL plan is slated to include.

Begich and Graham confirmed they plan to give coastal states discretion over the extent of development in outer continental shelf (i.e. federal waters) regions off their shores.

Begich, during a break in the briefing for freshman, also confirmed that the plan will offer states with offshore production a share of the leasing and royalty revenues.

Oil-and-gas leasing already occurs off Alaska’s shores in some regions, and lawmakers there have for years pressed for revenue sharing, akin to what Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama won in a 2006 law that expanded Gulf of Mexico drilling.

“They are still working through it, but in general it gives states the opportunity to participate if they want to do OCS development, and that’s great because Alaska loves OCS,” Begich said.

He cheered the revenue sharing. “At this point that’s in there. That is something that I think is absolutely needed if coastal states are to going to be part of this equation,” he said.

Graham said that with respect to drilling, “there’s an opt-in provision and an opt-out provision, but it’s still a work in progress.”

This is speculation, but that might mean that at some distances from shore, drilling could only occur if coastal state governments “opt-in,” while at other distances drilling would be allowed unless states act to “opt-out.” The “opt-in, opt-out” idea was part of a big GOP offshore drilling bill the House approved in 2006, as I detailed in this post.

* U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue had some modestly positive, if cautious, things to say about the KGL effort Wednesday. The Chamber staunchly opposed the economy-wide cap-and-trade bill the House approved last year.

KGL are using a more sector-by-sector approach that includes cap-and-trade for utilities, while addressing greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline through a carbon tax or fee. Business groups also like their intention to boost federal support for nuclear power and, as noted, expand offshore drilling.

“When we see the whole bill, we will take a very careful look at it. We like the content of the discussion,” Donohue told reporters in the Capitol. Donohue said the Chamber is “happily and positively engaged in the discussion” and that the sector-by-sector approach “makes more sense.”

* It appears there’s some friction between the KGL and Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine.), who have floated an alternative plan known as “cap and dividend” – even though KGL say they’re incorporating some of the Cantwell-Collins ideas.

Cantwelll and Collins held a briefing Wednesday that I was unable to attend, but this Reuters piece describes the issue.