Reid opens the door to ‘smaller’ energy bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has opened the door to moving a scaled-back energy bill rather than a broader climate change package if the climate bill can’t attract GOP support.

“We can do an energy bill this big or one this big,” Reid said Sunday, spreading his hands far apart and then bringing them close together to contrast a broad measure with a smaller one.

Describing a smaller package, he said: “I can do one this big because I have a couple of Republicans who would help me on that. But the big bill that we need to do, they are not helping us on that, but I can do a smaller energy bill.”

Reid made the comment in an interview with the Spanish-language network Univision that aired Sunday.

He did not provide specifics. But his comments address the question of whether the Senate will take up an “energy-only” bill if broader legislation that includes first-time greenhouse gas emissions caps falters.

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) plan to unveil a sweeping climate and energy package Wednesday. But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who helped craft the measure, has stepped away from the effort, leaving Kerry and Lieberman without a GOP partner.

Graham argues that Democratic efforts to move immigration legislation, combined with new questions about offshore drilling following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, make it “impossible” to move the climate bill this year.

The “smaller” bill Reid discussed could be legislation the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved last June with four GOP votes.

That plan includes a national renewable electricity mandate, a host of energy efficiency measures, wider financial support for low-carbon energy projects, and provisions to expand power transmission capacity.

But it also allows wider oil-and-gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, which is facing renewed resistance as a result of the ongoing Gulf spill.

The Kerry-Lieberman plan is also expected to include measures to promote expanded drilling. But some coastal state lawmakers are seeking increased protections, and Lieberman said last week that the drilling measures were getting a “second look.”