By Ben Geman - 03/26/10 08:14 PM EDT
Senators writing climate and energy legislation are vigorously courting business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But they might lose support on the left if they go too far.
Case in point: The Sierra Club’s new executive director is warning that the powerful environmental group will fight the legislation if the concessions to industry pile up too high.
“There are things that would cause the Club to oppose the bill, and there are several trigger points for us,” said Michael Brune, who took over as the venerable group’s executive director this month, in an interview with The Hill.
His comments come the same week that 10 coastal state Democrats warned the bill’s architects – Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) – that a major offshore oil drilling expansion might cost their votes.
The Sierra Club is among the big green groups that are on board – for now – with a Senate effort to craft compromise energy and climate measures that can overcome widespread GOP resistance to mandatory greenhouse gas curbs.
“We are in conversations with members of Congress all the time, and we are trying to get some clarity on what actually is going to emerge in the form of draft language, and simultaneously hold a hard edge in terms of what we won’t accept,” Brune said Thursday.
Kerry, Graham and Lieberman plan to include several provisions in the sweeping bill aimed at winning support from industry groups, centrist Democrats and Republicans.
This includes wider offshore oil drilling, expanded federal financial support for nuclear power plants, and preemption of EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under its existing Clean Air Act powers.
But such provisions might put the Senate trio on a collision course with the Sierra Club and other groups as they craft the sweeping legislation.
“We will go to the mat for defending Clean Air Act authority. We are also concerned about offshore oil drilling, and we will not be able to accept the dramatic giveaway that offshore oil drilling represents,” Brune said.
He stopped short of spelling out specific measures that would cause the Club to oppose the overall bill.
Brune is also critical of brewing nuclear power provisions and support for “clean coal” projects. “We think that investments in clean coal are about as real as investments in Easter bunny research,” he said.
But while warning of “trigger points” on EPA preemption and offshore drilling, Brune sounded upbeat notes about prospects for the bill, which Kerry, Graham and Lieberman plan to unveil in April.
“We are pleased but wary. It is encouraging to see that there is language that is beginning to emerge, that we will have a bill that can be debated very soon,” he said.
Brune also said the passage of healthcare legislation shows that a climate change deal remains possible.