Senate not seen passing climate bill in 2010

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate is unlikely to pass climate change legislation this year after going through the contentious health care debate, and will focus on a separate energy bill that has more bipartisan support, a key Democratic senator said on Tuesday.

Democrats are seeking to iron out differences between sweeping bills passed by the Senate and House of Representatives to revamp the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system, President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority.

“It is my assessment that we likely will not do climate change this year, but will do an energy bill instead,” Senator Byron Dorgan, told reporters in a telephone conference call.

Dorgan’s comments were at odds with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has said the Senate this spring would take up a climate change bill to cap and then reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for global warming.

Dorgan, who is in the Senate Democratic leadership, said legislation already cleared by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee would be easier to pass.

“My own sense is that in the aftermath of a very, very heavy lift on health care, I think it is unlikely that the Senate will turn next to the very complicated and very controversial subject of cap-and-trade, climate change kind of legislation,” Dorgan said. “I think it is more compelling to turn to an energy bill that is bi-partisan.”

That legislation would require more U.S. electricity supplies to be generated from renewable sources like wind and solar, and expand offshore drilling into the eastern Gulf of Mexico, which holds almost 4 billion barrels of oil.

Dorgan is behind the bill’s drilling provision, which would allow oil and natural gas exploration 45 miles from the Florida coastline.

To support his efforts, he cited a new study released on Tuesday that concluded drilling in the eastern Gulf would not interfere with military training exercises in offshore areas, a concern opponents to drilling off Florida have raised in the past.

Dorgan said he hoped the full Senate would pass the energy bill by the end of June. That measure would still have to clear the House and be signed into law by the president before it could take effect.

Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by Marguerita Choy