Senators say U.S. climate bill making progress

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic U.S. senators pushing legislation on global warming said on Tuesday they were making progress in winning support for the controversial measure, which is expected to begin moving through a key Senate committee sometime in November.

“We will make our best effort and we will advance this ball and Copenhagen will know we’re not fooling around,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry told Reuters in an interview.

In early December, an international meeting convenes in Copenhagen to try to reach an agreement on the next steps for reducing greenhouse gas pollution that is blamed for global climate change.

As the leading carbon dioxide polluter in the developed world, the United States is seen as key to the success of the Copenhagen meeting, where developing countries will want to see that Washington is making progress toward controlling dangerous emissions.

On Sunday, The New York Times published a column by Kerry, a Democrat, and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican. The senators vowed to band together to work toward passage of a comprehensive climate change and energy bill.

“I think it’s a breakthrough,” Kerry told Reuters, referring to Graham’s cooperation in the drive to gain enough votes for Senate passage.

Nevertheless, many are skeptical the Senate can pass legislation this year in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer announced her panel will kick off three days of hearings on October 27 on the climate change bill that she and Kerry proposed.

That measure calls for cutting carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020, from 2005 levels, a slightly more aggressive goal than a bill passed by the House of Representatives but far less ambitious than European countries have set forth.


Boxer said she hoped, in the weeks following the hearings, her committee will finish work on changes to the bill and will vote to approve it. But several other committees also must sign off on the bill.

The California Democrat said “great progress” had been made in refining the legislation, which is now being analyzed by the Environmental Protection Agency. But she stopped short of predicting passage by the full Senate this year.

“We look forward to a strong, clean energy jobs bill (being sent) to the full Senate as soon as possible,” Boxer told a news conference.

As she has repeated numerous times in recent months, Boxer said refinements to the bill -- such as how many free pollution permits U.S. industries would get -- would follow the outline of the House-passed bill, with some “tweaks.”

But she refused to provide details on how these “allocations” have been worked out in her bill.

Boxer said intensive discussions have been held with the Senate’s coal-state interests, who have a lot at stake in legislation that aims to wean the United States off polluting fossil fuels used at many utility plants.

Kerry’s discussions with Graham and other senators have focused on encouraging growth in the U.S. nuclear power industry. He said the Obama administration is “open” to such moves in a climate bill.

They also are discussing more U.S. offshore oil and gas drilling.

Liberal Democrats in Congress likely will balk at using government aid to encourage building more nuclear power plants, as well as expanding offshore oil drilling. But those might be necessary ingredients to lure some Republicans, who now largely oppose climate-change legislation.

Editing by John O’Callaghan