Cantwell: Energy bill coming, but how strong?

By:  Joel Connelly
Source: Seattle PI

A key player on multiple issues, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., was burning
the late-evening oil at her Washington, D.C., office Tuesday night, and sweating
details of a package of financial reforms that badly need her vote.

Cantwell was at the White House earlier Tuesday for a 90-minute meeting on
energy legislation with Democratic and Republican senators, and “Independent
Democrat” Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.


“We’ll get energy legislation,” Cantwell said in an interview with
seattlepi.com. “The question is how comprehensive. Will it start to get us off
our dependence on fossil fuels? Will it get us on an aggressive path to
developing new energy resources and creating green jobs?”

The session ended without answering these questions.

A carefully worded White House “Readout” fessed up to disagreement on a key
issue: Will polluters be made to pay for despoiling the environment and emitting
greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change?

“The president is confident we will be able to get something this year,” the
White House statement added.
Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, hinted at
possible passage of a limited bill that would seek to lower pollution from power

“I do not support an economy-wide piece of legislation,” Voinovich said in a
statement. “As far as a cap-and-trade program for the electric power sector, I
understand there is no consensus in the utility industry.”

A bevy of West Coast industries, from major utilities (Pacific Gas &
Electric) to technology pace settlers (Microsoft) to the retail sector have
called for legislation that would set America down a new energy path.

But Republicans have seized on the cap-and-trade issue, and Sen. Lamar
Alexander, R-Tenn., on Tuesday said the only way to get a workable bill is “to
take a national energy tax off the table.”

“I have not concluded we can get to the 60 votes to get us off carbon,”
Cantwell said after the meeting. Sixty votes are needed to break a filibuster in
the U.S. Senate.

Obama was a conciliator, Cantwell reported.

“The president exuded what he does best, which was to talk about the policy
issues and say, ‘You guys aren’t as far apart as it sounds’,” she added. “He did
what he had to do.”

Three West Coast Democrats at the meeting are outspoken advocates of new
energy technologies and curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. They are Cantwell,
freshman Sen. Jeff Merkeley of Oregon, and Senate Environment Committee chair
Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

Cantwell and GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine have sought to craft a
bipartisan bill and sell it in The Washington Post.

Lieberman and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., have sponsored a more sweeping energy
bill that puts an overall cap on carbon emissions, while letting polluting
companies buy and sell permits to pollute. After the meeting, however, Kerry
told Politics Daily: “All of us have to compromise.”

There is a cap on time for negotiations – next January.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency can regulate greenhouse gas emissions. “The decision is made,” Cantwell
said. “Greenhouse gases are polluters. They will be regulated (by EPA). The
question is whether we can find a better way.”

The meeting talked about focusing on electrical generation, where 40 to 50
percent of production comes from coal.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said leaving the White House that Democrats
are ready to move, but he acknowledged “this effort can go nowhere without
bipartisan support.”

“We need brave Republicans to step up and demonstrate the same commitment and
leadership on this issue that Democrats have.”

The reason Cantwell was working late on Tuesday? She was one of two Democrats
(along with Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin) to vote against financial reform
when it passed the Senate, arguing the bill was not strong enough.

The bill has grown somewhat stronger in House-Senate negotiations.

With the death of Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, Cantwell’s vote is
desperately needed to pass the legislation. (Sen. Scott Brown, R-Massachusetts,
is insisting on relief for banks before he will back it.)

What will Cantwell do?

“I am in my office going over the details as we speak,” she replied. “I want
to see the details.”