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Environment

U.S. climate bill seen unlikely in 2010

COLOGNE, Germany (Reuters) - Senators are unlikely to pass legislation to tackle global warming this year as the time remaining to do so runs out, a panel of experts said on Friday at a carbon conference.

U.S. Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman unveiled a climate bill earlier this month. Congressional elections are less than six months away and with Democrats facing losses, June or July could be the last chance to pass a bill this year, before the political atmosphere gets too heated.

Other countries are waiting anxiously for the bill to be passed so progress can be made later this year on an international pact to battle global warming.

The U.S. legislation would establish a cap and trade system for reducing carbon emissions by utilities and industrial companies.

Investors say cap-and-trade legislation will give them more certainty about their climate investments and international carbon trade.

“There is little chance anything will happen this year,” said Tom Lewis, chief executive of Green Exchange.

The political challenges in passing the bill are similar to those associated with a healthcare reform law, which was passed in March.

“Healthcare legislation was passed because the president made a major push but no one is willing to take a major step prior to the mid-term elections,” Lewis said.

“The Democrats are in line to lose a number of seats and I don’t see a passionate push between now and November 2 to get this over the finishing line,” he added, referring to the date of congressional elections.

POLITICAL CAPITAL

U.S. President Barack Obama has expressed hopes that the bill will pass this year as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has highlighted the need for energy reform.

The president may have exhausted his political influence after the tough fight to pass healthcare reform legislation in March, conference delegates said.

“Obama may have used all his political capital to get healthcare over the finishing line,” said Chelsea Maxwell, managing partner of the Clark Group and former senior climate advisor to Senator John Warner.

The best chance of passing the bill is before politicians break for Independence Day on July 4.

“There is a window of opportunity between now and the recess of July 4 to make a lot of progress and we have to seize that opportunity,” said Annie Petsonk, international counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund.

However, indecisive senators could threaten that chance. Congress could also focus on other issues on its busy agenda such as financial reform.

“Fence-sitters mean the odds of getting something through before July 4 are really slim,” said Alison Wood, partner at Hunton & Williams.

Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by William Hardy

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