Obama pushes senators to find common ground to pass energy legislation

By Matthew Daly, AP
Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Obama pushes for energy bill deal

WASHINGTON — The authors of sweeping energy legislation that is stalled in the Senate said Tuesday they were prepared to scale back their bill to get GOP support. They swiftly appeared to win a convert as a key moderate Republican said she might support a more targeted approach.

Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman made their comments after meeting at the White House with fellow senators and President Barack Obama, who is pushing for action in the wake of the Gulf oil spill.

“We are prepared to scale back the reach of our legislation in order to try to find that place of compromise,” Kerry, D-Mass., said after the meeting in which Obama urged senators to find common ground.

The bill by Kerry and Lieberman, I-Conn., would tax carbon dioxide emissions produced by coal-fired power plants and other large polluters as a way to reduce pollution blamed for global warming. The legislation has been panned by many Republicans as a “national energy tax.”

A more modest approach would limit the carbon tax to the electricity sector, something Kerry said Tuesday was under consideration. The idea appeared to win a critical Republican endorsement from Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe after she attended Tuesday’s White House meeting.

“I believe that one possibility is to more narrowly target a carbon pricing program through a uniform nationwide system solely on the power sector,” Snowe said in a statement.

The chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is quietly drafting a bill that would cap greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Some White House officials have begun to speak favorably about such a “utility-only” approach, which could be more attractive to Republicans.

Supporters of the bill must contend with dwindling time on the legislative calendar and the difficulty of passing comprehensive climate change legislation in an election year.

Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, said there was discussion Tuesday about an emissions cap just on stationary sources, which would primarily mean power plants and refineries.

“Based on the discussion today I think we feel good about opportunities to come together and find some common ground to pass legislation this year,” Zichal told viewers in a forum on the White House website.

But the path to compromise remains rocky.

“If we want a clean energy bill, take a national energy tax off the table in the middle of a recession while we focus on the oil spill and focus on what we agree on,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is aiming to bring energy legislation to the Senate floor in July.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate also are pursuing numerous bills related to the oil spill, from raising the legal liability for oil companies to limiting deepwater drilling and requiring closer inspections of offshore rigs. The bills are likely to be packaged together, although it’s not clear whether spill legislation would be considered separately or attached to a larger energy bill.

As drafted, the Kerry-Lieberman measure aims to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020 and by more than 80 percent by 2050.

The House passed its own comprehensive measure last year.

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