Splits among key authors of US climate and energy bill cast pall over passage this year

Publish date: April 26, 2010

NEW YORK – The Senate climate and energy bill retreated even further into the shadows yesterday as its three key authors emerged from a 45-minute closed-door meetings smacking of evident schisms between them when they passed on making a joint statement to the press.

The meeting was their first chance for the three to get together after South Carolina Republican Senator and co-author of the bill Linsdsey Graham announced he would be withdrawing his support over a decision by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to move first on an immigration bill. Graham announced his decision over the weekend.

Following the meeting, all three Senators went separate directions with no combined comment to the awaiting press, reports indicated.

But in sideline interviews the bill’s co-authors had their say. Graham took aim at Reid’s move, saying it gave the climate bills “a snowballs chance in hell; Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry Kerry posted statements saying the climate bill still had a strong pulse, and Connecticut Joe Lieberman indicated the bill would be sent Wednesday to the US Environmental Protection Agency for economic analysis.

“It’s politics as usual in Washington,” said Bellona USA Director Jonathan Temple. “The Senate is not good at doing two things at once, let alone three or four, and the atmosphere on Capitol Hill is uncooperative, perhaps some would say poisonous. The prospects for a robust climate bill are not good.”

Graham complains of cynical politics

Graham’s main complaint Monday was that Reid is insisting on pushing an issue that is closely tied to his own reelection in his home state of Nevada, where he will be facing midterm elections later this year, at the expense of moving the climate bill forward for Senate debate by summer – or even the end of the year.

Passage of a comprehensive climate bill will be crucial to effective American engagement in further UN Climate talks, the next round of which are scheduled for December in Cancun, Mexico.

This is of special significance as last year’s Copenhagen climate summit ended on a hurried note, mostly imposed by President Barack Obama and alliances he forged, that only succeeded in obligating individual nations to forward their own emissions cut objectives and strategies prior to Cancun.

“Do you think I’ve been working all these months saying, ‘Let’s do energy and climate,’ and Tuesday, ‘Let’s do immigration,'” Graham told reporters, as quoted by Climate Wire, during a 15-minute side appearance.

Graham said that he supported discussing substantive immigration legislation but added that packing it into the Senate agenda now, with the climate bill teetering, made the legislative procedure top-heady for reasons he called “a political stunt” by Reid.

“You all are talking about energy and climate,” Graham told reorters. “Well, Lindsey Graham is part of both. And I’m not going to be a party to bringing up immigration in this Congress, I mean in this year, in a way that will destroy the issue.”

“Not only have you hurt immigration; you’ve destroyed any chance of energy and climate having a snowball’s chance in hell,” Graham added.

Kerry tries to dampen fears

While realising that Graham’s climb-down represent the loss of the climate and energy bill’s strongest Republican ally, Kerry tried to paint a happier landscape of its progress in his own sideline talks with reporters.

“We’re working to get the pieces put together, and we’re doing fine,” he said without further comment and referred the media to Graham. In a statement he later posted on the liberal leaning website Talking Points Memo, Kerry wrote: “We’re still pushing, we’re still talking, we’re still fighting, it’s very much alive – and I won’t quit.”

Kerry wrote that, “It’s practically a rite of passage. No serious legislation ever makes it very far in Congress before it’s declared dead – at least once, sometimes two or three times,” and added praise for Graham, saying he “invested enormous amounts of time” in the effort to do “the hard, grinding work” on the compromise legislation.

Kerry, however offered no outline as to how he would push the climate bill forward without Graham’s support, he did zero in on media reports and commentators that are suggesting the initiative is in its death throes.

“Don’t get too caught up in the inside-the-Beltway parlor game of declaring reform efforts ‘dead,'” Kerry said in his statement. “We’re still pushing, we’re still talking, we’re still fighting, it’s very much alive.”

Lieberman emerges as peacemaker

For his part, the climate and energy bill’s third co-author, Connecticut Independent Senator Joel Liberman made clear in remarks to reporters that he was shuttling olive branches between Kerry and Graham.

“John Kerry and I are trying our best to encourage Senator Reid to remove this obstacle,” Lieberman said in remakrs reported by ClimateWire. “Because this [energy bill] can be done this year. Immigration reform – even though I support immigration reform – cannot be done. It doesn’t have the votes.”

Lieberman also said he, Kerry and Graham wanted to submit their legislation by tomorrow to the US Environmental Protection Agency to begin the six-week economic analysis necessary before the bill can reach the Senate floor, but Senate observers told Bellona Web the prospects for this looked dim

Reid spoke on the Senate floor yesterday with Kerry, according to ClimateWire He also met with Graham, but it appears they have not come anywhere closer to an agreement.

Graham’s offices had no comment on this when Bellona Web phoned on Tuesday.

The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill last year, creating a “cap-and-trade” programme that sets a limit on greenhouse gas emissions and a market for trading pollution rights.

The Senate bill was to have set a price on carbon pollution and promoted offshore oil drilling, new nuclear plants and development of renewable energy sources and other “clean” technologies to wean the United States off oil imports.

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