Senate climate bill details still unfinished

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senators negotiating a bill to address global warming fears and encourage the use of more alternative energy in the United States struggled over details on Tuesday as lawmakers approached a two-week break without a full legislative proposal yet in hand.

“We expect in the next days to close in on some concepts” for climate control legislation, Senator John Kerry told reporters shortly before a scheduled briefing of fellow senators on the outline of his plan.

Last Wednesday, Kerry told reporters he was hoping to “button up our efforts” this week.

With Congress set to begin a two-week recess on Saturday, senators will leave town without the specific legislative proposals many of them sought before deciding whether they could support a plan to mandate reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from utilities, factories and refineries.

Senate sources also said an outline of a climate bill will not be publicly released this week either, although details have leaked out.

The bill Kerry will describe to fellow senators are “not cast in stone,” the Democratic senator said, adding, “We’re still in negotiations.” More Senate consultations with industry are set for Thursday, sources said.

Kerry, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and independent Senator Joseph Lieberman may soon settle on enough details to submit information to the Congressional Budget Office and the Environmental Protection Agency to begin analyzing the economic impact.

“I don’t know about this week; end of the week, next week,” Kerry said.


The bill Kerry hopes to pass would commit the United States to a 17 percent reduction in carbon pollution by 2020, from 2005 levels. If such a bill is debated by the Senate this year -- and there are strong doubts -- some senators likely would try to reduce the 17 percent figure somewhat.

In international global warming negotiations, there are fears that even a 17 percent target by the United States, the world’s second largest polluter behind China, would not be enough to keep the planet’s temperature from climbing to dangerous levels.

Senator Carl Levin told reporters he has not yet heard from Kerry about concerns over how carbon pollution permits would be allocated to various electric power utilities.

Under the bill being developed by Kerry, Graham and Lieberman, beginning in 2012 utilities would be placed under a cap and trade program for reducing emissions. Their pollution limits would be capped at declining levels over the next 40 years and pollution permits could be traded in a new market.

Manufacturers might be phased into such a program starting in 2016, while the oil industry is pushing for a different pollution-reduction approach that likely would include a new carbon tax instead of cap and trade.

The climate bill faces several problems, including fears that it would raise consumer prices at a time of economic uncertainty and with many Democrats facing tough races in November’s congressional elections.

Some lawmakers, such as Senator John McCain, claim that the new healthcare reform law passed without any Republican support will spoil chances for any other big bills this year.

But environmental groups were still hopeful for a breakthrough on a climate bill, which would need votes from at least a handful of Republicans.

Eric Haxthausen, director of climate policy for the Nature Conservancy, said passage of healthcare reform showed the “power of the president when the president is engaged” and added, “that is helpful for the climate effort,” which Obama supports.

Editing by Chris Wilson