Senate climate bill stuck in limbo for now

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The compromise climate change proposal unveiled last week in the Senate is in legislative limbo, its fate apparently uncertain until at least next month.

The plan by Democratic Senator John Kerry and independent Senator Joseph Lieberman to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming is not the subject of any committee hearings; it’s not being debated on the Senate floor; it’s not even been formally introduced.

At a weekly luncheon that Democratic senators hold on Tuesdays to talk politics and policy, the nearly 1,000-page draft proposal was barely mentioned, according to senators who attended this week’s closed-door meeting, the first since its unveiling.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that during the week of June 14, he hoped to gather all 57 Senate Democrats and two independents “where we will just talk about nothing but energy.”

By then, the Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Information Administration could be done, or nearing completion, of an economic analysis of the Kerry-Lieberman bill. The two senators hope the studies will boost prospects if they show minimal negative impact on the U.S. economy from gradually shifting U.S. energy sources from fossil fuels like coal and oil to wind, solar and biomass.


In the meantime, many senators are questioning whether a climate change/energy development bill will see the light of day in the Senate this year.

“My feeling is it’s not going to be coming up this year, but if it does I will dig into it at great depth,” Senator Carl Levin told Reuters.

The Michigan Democrat wants tight prohibitions against states developing a patchwork of carbon-reduction plans, something the automakers in his state would abhor. Instead, he wants a national policy on cutting carbon emissions, which Kerry-Lieberman would set.

Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, which has fought hard for a climate bill, said during a speech at the Brookings Institution, “I would never say there is no chance of getting it this year, but I think the chances are painfully small.”

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont questioned whether there will be 60 votes in the Senate in support of a climate bill, the minimum needed to overcome procedural hurdles Republicans are sure to mount.

“By the time you get to the 60th vote, that person is going to be very heavily influenced by the coal, oil, nuclear power industry,” Sanders said.

Kerry and Lieberman argue that there are plenty of new incentives for those industries in their bill -- from billions of dollars to help the coal industry research ways to make coal-burning cleaner, to tax and loan incentives for more nuclear power capacity and even more offshore oil drilling.

Kerry reiterated on Tuesday that the huge Gulf of Mexico oil spill that began on April 20 “should also drive a serious national dialogue and a debate on legislation this year to advance our nation’s clean energy future.”

Senator Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, where there are worries that a climate bill could mean the loss of jobs in the coal industry, said it’s too early to abandon a global warming bill and pivoting to a narrow bill that would just require utilities to use more alternative energy.

“I think a serious discussion about that is premature,” Casey told reporters. But he wants assurances that a comprehensive climate bill will help workers in communities hit by job losses.

Casey said that once “the spotlight is fully or substantially on climate change, you might see some shifting” by Republicans. So far, not one has signed onto passing the Kerry-Lieberman bill this year.

The Pew Center’s Claussen said failure by Congress to finish legislation this year would be a blow to international climate control talks and that without a domestic law, “the ability of the U.S. to lead is almost nonexistent.”

U.N. climate negotiators are next scheduled to meet May from 31 to June 11 in Bonn, with sentiments running high that a new global treaty will not be struck by year’s end.

Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Eric Walsh