WASHINGTON Negotiators in the U.S. Senate are nowhere close to writing details of a compromise climate change bill requiring reductions in greenhouse gas pollution, Senator Joseph Lieberman said on Thursday.
Lieberman, an independent, has joined forces in recent weeks with Senators John Kerry, a Democrat, and Lindsey Graham, a Republican, to try to come up with legislation that could win enough support to secure passage in the deeply divided Senate.
Asked by Reuters whether efforts were making enough progress so that senators could begin drafting a compromise bill, Lieberman responded, "No."
Lieberman noted that at least two key Senate committees, Finance and Agriculture, have not yet worked on their portions of a climate change bill. Until then, a compromise bill will not be drafted, he said. The healthcare debate consuming Capitol Hill is contributing to the delays, he added.
With a two-week international summit on global warming convening in Copenhagen on Monday, countries are looking to the U.S. Congress to see what commitments will be made by the world's second-leading emitter of greenhouse gases. Scientists say these gases contribute to climate change.
Kerry, Lieberman and Graham are expected to decide in coming days whether they will unveil an outline of their compromise bill to give a boost to the Copenhagen summit. Any such outline might represent only their own goals and not those of a broad coalition of senators.
"Can we express some goals that the three of us have or an outline of some of the things the three of us want to do?" Lieberman asked rhetorically.
The bill they plan to develop likely will include incentives for expanding nuclear power capacity and offshore oil drilling to make the nation more energy independent.
Kerry and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are aiming for passage of a climate bill early next year, possibly in the spring. The House of Representatives passed its version in June, but climate legislation has stalled in the Senate.
Lieberman also said more details of a bill need to be developed before the Environmental Protection Agency can analyze any bill's potential cost and effectiveness.
President Barack Obama, scheduled to travel to Copenhagen, said last week the United States will aim to reduce its carbon emissions by around 17 percent by 2020, from 2005 levels. The compromise bill might embrace a similar goal, Lieberman said.
Nine Democratic senators who have expressed concerns about climate legislation wrote a letter to Obama on Thursday urging him to insist on 10 principles in Copenhagen. Those include addressing trade implications of climate policy, a key concern of manufacturing states that fear further job losses from legislation.
(Editing by Will Dunham)