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Kerry cites urgency on climate change bill

As he and Lieberman wrap up work, the senator sees a message in the gulf oil spill.

May 12, 2010|Jim Tankersley

WASHINGTON — After months of negotiations and weeks of delay, Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) will unveil their plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions and spur clean energy growth Wednesday -- and the biggest challenge will be selling the notion that the bill has any chance of passage.

Kerry and Lieberman's efforts took a major hit when their Republican co-architect, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, walked away from the bill shortly before its scheduled rollout last month.

Since then, partisan polarization has intensified and the politics of energy have been muddled further by the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Though Kerry and Lieberman added new curbs on drilling -- including allowing states to block their neighbors' plans to drill offshore -- the legislation does not ban new drilling altogether.

Still, Kerry and Lieberman say they've lined up wide support from utilities, oil companies and other business leaders they've courted for months. They hope that backing will lead to support from moderate Democrats and crossover Republicans.

The senators, along with environmental groups, say the gulf spill has focused public attention on America's thirst for oil, giving new momentum to a bill that could represent the last, best chance for several years for the Senate to act forcefully to curb global warming.

"The oil spill creates urgency," Kerry said in an interview Tuesday.

"In my judgment, the oil spill says: 'Get this done, folks. You've got to get to it and to change America's energy posture,' " he said.

The proposed legislation mandates reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels via a so-called cap-and-trade system for power plants and, eventually, factories -- with strict curbs on the types of trading that could be done.

It would require oil companies to obtain emission permits at a set price not determined by the trading market.

The legislation would immediately send two-thirds of the revenue from emissions permit sales directly back to consumers as refunds on their utility bills, Kerry said, and eventually refund nearly all of the proceeds to consumers, in an effort to blunt energy cost increases.

Small sums would be dedicated to reducing the federal budget deficit, investing in energy research and financing international climate change efforts.

Also included are several efforts to win support from Republicans and business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, including incentives for new nuclear power plants and a variety of protections and sweeteners for Rust Belt manufacturers.

As written, the bill would stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act and restrict state environmental powers.

But it would allow California to implement energy efficiency standards and other provisions of its signature global warming law, AB 32.

"We will not undermine California," Kerry said.

Groups such as the Sierra Club have threatened to fight any bill that strips EPA and state regulatory authority.

No issue figures to pose as much political difficulty as offshore drilling. In the wake of the BP spill, several coastal Democrats have threatened to block any legislation that expands drilling.

Some Republicans and centrist Democrats, such as Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, have insisted on continued expansion of offshore drilling.

Critics of climate legislation have long argued that emission limits would raise energy costs and cripple the economy.

"This bill is a compilation of just about every bad idea that has emerged in the energy debate," said Patrick Creighton, spokesman for the free-market Institute for Energy Research think tank. "Two things are certain if this bill becomes law: Energy prices will skyrocket, and jobs will be shipped overseas."

jtankersley@latimes.com

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