* Bill would put U.S. on path to cut carbon pollution
* Gulf of Mexico oil spill looms large in debate
* Effort hurt by Republican opposition, Graham's absence
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, May 11 A new U.S. Senate bill aimed
at battling global warming would impose new limits on carbon
dioxide pollution from factories, utilities and vehicles, while
expanding heavy-polluting domestic oil production and nuclear
The legislation, which is certain to face tough opposition
from Republicans and even some Democrats, will be formally
unveiled on Wednesday by Democratic Senator John Kerry and
Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman.
There is no guarantee the bill will even be debated this
year and it is unclear whether a massive oil spill in the Gulf
of Mexico will hamper the legislation or prompt a more urgent
look at U.S. energy and environmental policy. [ID:nN11246329]
A summary of the long-delayed bill, obtained by Reuters on
Tuesday, contained few surprises as many details had leaked out
over the past several weeks. [ID:nN11126331]
At the core of the bill is a goal to cut U.S. carbon
emissions by 17 percent by 2020. But the summary did not
address several questions, such as how new pollution permits
would be distributed or sold to electric power utilities.
The bill also contains tax and loan guarantee incentives to
expand nuclear power generation. Offshore oil drilling also
would get a new boost from Washington.
Both steps are aimed at building more support from senators
than a climate-only bill would get.
But in the wake of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that
began in April, the proposal includes protections for coastal
states that do not want oil drilling off their shores.
The climate bill would be Kerry's counteroffer to the House
of Representatives, which passed a somewhat different version
of climate control legislation nearly a year ago.
It aims to back commitments President Barack Obama made to
world leaders in December that the United States would get
serious for the first time about cutting emissions, which many
experts say will wreak havoc on the planet if left unchecked.
About 6.4 billion metric tonnes of the gases are sent into
the atmosphere each year by coal- and oil-burning electric
utilities, factories, refineries and vehicles in the United
States, a level of pollution that is second only to China.
Like the House-passed bill, the Kerry-Lieberman bill tries
to cut carbon emissions by more than 80 percent by 2050.
It is expected to require utilities to obtain a dwindling
number of pollution permits for every tonne of carbon they emit
starting in 2013, similar to the broader cap-and-trade system
passed by the House. Those permits would be traded on a
European countries, as well as a group of northeastern U.S.
states, already have cap-and-trade programs in place with
trading done regionally. If passed, the federal legislation
would end state and regional programs.
Aware of broadly held Senate skepticism over the bill's
chances this year, Kerry called on his colleagues "to look at
it with fresh eyes."
November's congressional elections are likely to result in
a dilution of Democrats' power in Congress, making it harder to
approve sweeping energy and environmental legislation in 2011.
"Everyone knows this is Congress's last, best chance to
pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation," Kerry said.
If it fails, he added, "Congress will be rendered incapable of
solving this issue."
Kerry has pumped sweeteners into the legislation -- from
incentives to expand nuclear power capacity to federal aid for
developing "clean coal" -- in a gambit to lure the backing of
big business and ultimately Senate Republicans.
Many utilities with big investments in low-carbon nuclear
power, natural gas or wind and solar power hope to benefit from
a crackdown on greenhouse gases.
Utilities such as FPL Group (FPL.N), Duke Energy (DUK.N)
and Exelon (EXC.N) have lobbied for the climate bill, as has
General Electric (GE.N), a manufacturer of clean coal and
natural gas systems for power plants and wind turbines.
Climate bill supporters cast the initiative as a major step
toward reducing U.S. reliance on foreign oil and, in the
process, shoring up national security. They argue it also would
plant the seeds for green jobs during tough economic times, as
fossil fuels would be replaced by solar, wind and other clean
But a fundamental shift in the kinds of energy used also
pits coal and oil states in the Midwest and Southeast against
coastal and other interior states that already are positioned
to cash in on clean energy industries.
WHERE IS LINDSEY GRAHAM?
The Senate launch of the bill likely will be overshadowed
by an absent player -- Republican Senator Lindsey Graham -- who
spent about six months collaborating with Kerry and Lieberman,
only to drop out late in the game.
Graham spoiled an April 26 unveiling of the legislation,
protesting Senate Democratic leaders' plans to put immigration
reform on a fast-track this election year. He complained the
maneuver meant the climate bill would not get serious
consideration in an already tight legislative calendar.
By last week, with oil gushing from the floor of the Gulf
of Mexico, Graham was calling for a "pause" in climate control
efforts. He said he feared the oil slick, which threatens the
shores of four southern U.S. states, would ruin chances for
expanding offshore oil drilling in the climate bill.
As a result, Kerry's efforts to get Graham back on board
It is unknown whether the work Kerry and Lieberman are
touting will interest any of the Senate's 40 other Republicans.
A handful are needed to ensure passage.
The battle Lieberman and Kerry will wage comes as
scientists see what they say is mounting evidence of global
warming: oceans rapidly becoming more acidic, polar ice sheets
collapsing, mountain glaciers melting and sea levels rising.
(Editing by Russell Blinch and John O'Callaghan)