Climate Bill Appears Stalled In Senate

The measure to remake the energy economy and limit greenhouse gases has run aground in Congress. The Republican sponsor of the measure, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, is withdrawing his support because Democrats are taking up immigration legislation.

A Senate bill to remake the energy economy and limit greenhouse gases that warm the planet has run aground in Congress and could die there.

The Republican sponsor of the measure, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, says he will withdraw his support because Democrats appear to be more interested in passing immigration reform before taking up the energy bill.

Democrats are scrambling to right this sinking ship. Meanwhile, bill supporters are lamenting the potential loss of a measure that was designed to thread the political needle and win bipartisan support.

GOP Support Needed

The climate and energy bill that passed in the House of Representatives last year did so with the barest of margins. So supporters in the Senate spent months sweetening their version to win over skeptics.

Eileen Claussen, who directs the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, lists just a few: "There are provisions for offshore drilling with revenue sharing, there are provisions for loan guarantees for another, I think, 10 nuclear power plants that were not in the House bill.

"You can argue that they are legitimate in themselves, but they are also an attempt to make this more positive, to get more moderate Democrats to support this bill, and Republicans."

But Claussen says the bill still needs at least some GOP support.

"If Sen. Graham is gone," she says, "and actually does not re-emerge here, it makes it very, very difficult to get anything done."

Potential Obstacles

Even if Graham comes back on board, the bill is spiked with potential deal-killers.

One early version included a fee on oil that is refined for gasoline. That quickly earned the politically radioactive label of a "gas tax" and sent bill supporters into denial.

The bill would also raise energy prices, even as the government returns some of the revenue raised from polluters to energy consumers.

Some of the sweeteners have embittered environmental groups that otherwise support the measure. One section pushes the Environmental Protection Agency out of the carbon regulation business, a role the EPA asserted it legally had last year. The bill also overrules emissions limits already set in place by states, such as California and several northeastern states.

Backing From Business Groups

Many business groups have also pinned their hopes on this climate bill.

Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents utility companies, says the bill at least gives businesses a road map of the future before they build new power plants.

"We all know that there is an objective to move to lower carbon fuels in the future," says Kuhn, "and it is extremely important to us when we are making billions of dollars worth of investments to have the certainty."

Others in business see profits rather than pain in the bill.

Kate Offringa, president and CEO of the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, says the bill contains language that could be good for her members.

"For one thing," she explains, "a provision that would require building codes at the state and local level to increase their energy efficiency requirements over a short time frame."

Buildings consume 40 percent of the energy used in the U.S., more than all of the nation's cars and trucks. More efficient buildings mean more insulation.

The bill's co-author and lead supporter in the Senate, Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, says the bill is the last chance this year for climate legislation. Skeptics already are talking about another try in 2011 if it dies now; either that, or breaking the bill up into easily digestible parts and settling for half -- or less -- of a loaf. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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