WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some prominent Republican senators expressed openness on Tuesday to a U.S. climate change bill that might be introduced next week and that would need bipartisan support to have any chance of advancing.
Senator Lamar Alexander, a member of the Republican leadership in the Senate, praised the sector-by-sector approach in a compromise bill aimed at reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
“I think a sector-by-sector approach makes a lot more sense for dealing with carbon,” the Tennessee senator told reporters.
Winning Republican support would be big breakthrough for Democrats and the Obama White House, especially as some Republican lawmakers have been sharply critical of climate legislation because of concerns industry would be hurt and also due to skepticism over the science behind global warming.
The sector-by-sector approach contrasts to an economy-wide approach taken by a bill passed last year in the House of Representatives that was also sharply criticized by Republican lawmakers.
Alexander said he “would consider a cap on utilities only if we could figure out the right way to do it that didn’t drive costs up substantially over the short term.”
Republican Senator Scott Brown, whose election in January robbed Democrats of their 60-seat supermajority, told Reuters, “I‘m open to reading anything that’s being proposed” for climate change legislation.
A trio of senators -- Democrat John Kerry, independent Joseph Lieberman and Republican Lindsey Graham -- are trying to put the finishing touches on a climate change bill that aims to reduce carbon pollution by capping emissions, starting in 2012, from electric power utilities.
The transportation sector would see a new tax, probably after oil is refined, instead of a carbon cap, although the fee would be linked to pollution permits traded in the utility sector.
As for the third sector -- manufacturers -- Kerry, Graham and Lieberman have been weighing a cap-and-trade scheme like the one for utilities, but phasing it in starting in 2016. Alexander voiced opposition to capping factory emissions.
Kerry would not say whether he has succeeded yet in winning the support of any Republicans other than Graham for the bill he hopes to unveil next week.
Graham told Reuters that the goal was to “put a bill out there the three of us can rally around” and see “the kind of reception it gets once it’s rolled out.”
But before being introduced, Kerry, Graham and Lieberman still have difficult issues to resolve.
Graham said the trio is “revisiting” how to allocate future carbon pollution permits for electric power companies, a thorny issue that has brought criticisms from various senators, including Democrat Carl Levin from Michigan.
“Things are coming together but there’s still some hurdles,” Kerry said, without specifying. He said more meetings were needed this week with senators and industry.
Some liberal Democrats attacked the bill’s planned inclusion of expanded offshore oil and gas drilling.
“Without very significant alteration of the drilling issues, they’ll probably lose my vote,” New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez told reporters.
Senator Frank Lautenberg, also from New Jersey who last year voted for an Environment and Public Works Committee climate bill that Kerry’s effort builds upon, said expanded offshore drilling could jeopardize his state’s beach resorts and related businesses if there was an oil spill.
“I‘m not comforted by a 50-mile limitation,” on drilling offshore, he added.
The three senators writing the climate bill are hoping to introduce it early next week, according to sources, around the April 22 40th anniversary of Earth Day, an event that sometimes draws derision from some Republicans.
“We’re not going to do it on Earth Day,” Graham said, adding, “It’s going to be offshore drilling day when it’s introduced.”
Editing by Philip Barbara