Senators Offer New Climate Proposals

By:  John Broder
Source: The New York Times

Three Senators released a broadly-worded blueprint of a climate change and energy bill on Thursday afternoon that they believe can win the 60 votes needed to push the bill through next year.

The proposal was timed to help persuade delegates to the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen that the Senate is serious about passing a climate bill and not mired in a partisan morass.

Senators John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and Joseph I. Lieberman, Independent of Connecticut, sent President Obama a letter on Thursday outlining their plan.

Separately, a pair of moderate senators, Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said that they would unveil a competing global warming proposal on Friday.

The Kerry-Graham-Lieberman proposal sets a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, the level contained in a bill passed by the House earlier this year. President Obama has set that target as the United States bargaining position in the Copenhagen talks.

The Takeaway With John M. Broder

The plan also calls for increased incentives for offshore oil and gas drilling and government support for nuclear power plant construction, provisions designed to win the support of Republicans and moderate Democrats. It also allows for tariffs on goods from countries that do not set strong greenhouse gas emissions limits, as long as such tariffs are compliant with global trade agreements.

The framework also suggests that the senators are prepared to preempt the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, a prospect that unnerves many business interests.

“Over the past month, we have been working together to develop consensus on a comprehensive pollution reduction and energy independence plan,” the senators said in their letter to Mr. Obama. “Support is building to simultaneously create jobs, protect our national security interests, and improve our environment. As you depart for Copenhagen, we wanted to provide an assessment of where we see the debate heading in the United States Senate.”

They continued, “We look forward to working with you in the coming months to enact comprehensive pollution reduction and energy independence legislation.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman proposal “a positive development” toward passage of a Senate bill.

“Over the last 11 months, the Obama Administration has made historic strides in building a clean energy economy, creating new American jobs and reducing US dependence on foreign oil,” Mr. Gibbs said in a statement. “From robust domestic actions including historic investments in clean energy to sustained international engagement to encourage countries around the world to reduce their carbon emissions, the President has established a new energy foundation. The passage of comprehensive energy legislation is essential to that effort.”

Senators Cantwell and Collins are planning to unveil a bill that would set a price on carbon emissions and return most of the revenue to consumers who will pay higher fuel costs.

The bill, a variation of the so-call cap-and-dividend idea that has a number of supporters in both houses of Congress, aims to achieve a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020.

While most of the revenue from the auctioning of emissions permits under the plan would go to consumers, a quarter would be used for clean energy research, assistance to hard-hit communities, energy efficiency programs and reductions in greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide.

The average household would receive a tax-free refund of about $1,100 a year, according to Senator Cantwell’s office.

Ms. Cantwell said she believed her proposal could draw more Republican support than the cap-and-trade plan put forward by Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman.

“I think there’s a lot of interest across the aisle in a process that is simpler and fairer,” she said in a telephone interview on Thursday afternoon. “Cap-and-trade is not as predictable in its allowance system and who gets what. Republicans like predictability.”