No consensus as Obama, senators discuss energy bill
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged lawmakers to put a price on carbon pollution in an upcoming Senate energy bill, but a meeting at the White House ended with no consensus, according to some senators and congressional aides.
Senate Democratic leaders are aiming for July to debate legislation that would encourage more use of clean, alternative energy sources, such as power from wind, solar and biomass. That measure also is likely to clamp down on offshore oil drilling practices after the unprecedented BP Plc oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
But deep differences apparently were not resolved in the Senate over whether the legislation also should impose new requirements on utilities, factories, refineries or the transportation industry to reduce carbon dioxide pollution.
Democratic Senator John Rockefeller, who currently opposes such mandatory reductions, told reporters after the meeting that Obama and senators attending the meeting did not reach agreement on how to move forward on climate change legislation.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told reporters that while many Democrats think that putting a price on carbon is "the right way to go ... it was obvious that a lot of different people had different ideas and everyone thought their own idea was better than the other."
Manley said senators were "still reaching for a consensus on what we can take to the floor" in July.
Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent who wrote a climate change bill with Democrat John Kerry, said previously reluctant lawmakers at the meeting expressed willingness to discuss "limited forms" of carbon pricing in the bill.
STARTING WITH POWER UTILITIES
One idea is to initially set carbon pollution reduction requirements just for electric power utilities. Kerry told reporters that was one possibility, but that there could be others.
Putting a price on carbon means requiring companies to pay for the earth-warming carbon dioxide emissions they produce.
Obama has tried to harness public anger over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to build support for legislation that would increase U.S. production of renewable fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But with congressional elections looming in November, experts say chances that the controversial bill will pass this year are slim.
"If there's no clear strategy at this point" for a bill putting a price on emissions, "then you really don't have much time for something that's no small undertaking," said Divya Reddy, an analyst at the Eurasia Group in Washington.
Still, the White House said Obama was confident "we will be able to get something done this year" on the bill and that he backed, again, the need for a system that forces companies to pay for the pollution they generate.
"When companies pollute, they should be responsible for the costs to the environment and their contribution to climate change," the White House said in a statement.
"Not all of the senators agreed with this approach, and the president welcomed other approaches and ideas that would take real steps to reduce our dependence on oil, create jobs, strengthen our national security and reduce the pollution in our atmosphere."
Two Republicans told reporters after the meeting they would not favor a bill that would cap emissions.
"The thing that Americans are focused on are jobs. When it comes right down to it that is the reason that a cap and trade proposal, a national energy tax, will not sell at this time," said Republican Lisa Murkowski.
"We've got to find that path that will not put an added burden on the American taxpayer," she said.
Lieberman said he and Kerry would reach out to Republicans and Democrats who showed a willingness to compromise.
"Some of our colleagues, who up until this time have been at least publicly reluctant about the 'polluter pays, putting a price on carbon pollution (principle),' said that they would be willing to discuss limited forms of doing that in this bill," Lieberman said.
"To me that's a breakthrough that Senator Kerry and I want to begin to take advantage of," he said.
Kerry said they were willing to "scale back" their legislation to find support, but he made it clear that both the energy and climate change aspects of the legislation would have to be included.
"We're prepared to compromise further and we are looking for some Republicans and perhaps even some members of our own caucus who will meet us at that place of compromise," he said.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Alister Bull and Alina Selyukh; editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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