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Groups Push Climate Bill on Earth Day

Environmentalists are using the 40th annual Earth Day today to step up the pressure for sweeping climate change legislation, but industry stakeholders representing coal, gas and Big Oil plan to be largely silent.

The push for action on a climate change bill comes just days before a rally on the National Mall on Sunday with the likes of Sting performing in anticipation of the expected rollout of a major energy and climate change bill in the Senate.

But just because industry groups aren’t making a big push on Earth Day doesn’t mean they are standing down on climate change.

K Street behemoths like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Petroleum Institute and Edison Electric Institute are intensely lobbying Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and their staffs on the details of the compromise bill that the trio will unveil as soon as Monday that is expected to increase nuclear power, expand domestic oil and natural gas production, and cap greenhouse gas emissions.

The groups have a leg up in having their voices heard because the Senators are employing the same big-tent approach on climate change that Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) used with health care reform. Kerry, in particular, has continued meeting with big business interests, trying to keep them in the fold as long as possible to diminish opposition to the bill.

“They are working really hard to get this to a point where it can have some significant bipartisan support,” one climate-focused consultant said. “They are on the verge of achieving that.”

Lobbyists say the details of the bill are murky at best as the expected unveiling of legislative language has continued to be pushed back.

“We’re waiting like everybody else,” said Dan Whitten of America’s Natural Gas Alliance.

A draft proposal was supposed to be circulated on Capitol Hill as early as Wednesday, but that didn’t happen.

It’s unclear whether the announcement Monday will unveil actual legislation or a more general outline of principles, according to several lobbyists following the debate.

The measure is expected to rein in electric power utilities, putting a new emissions cap on the industry beginning in 2012, with a similar provision for manufacturers as early as 2016.

So far, the National Association of Manufacturers is staying mum on the bill. NAM spokeswoman Maureen Davenport said the group is “still waiting to see the text.”

There are several areas that continue to be under discussion, including whether to expand offshore drilling for coastal states and changes to transportation-sector emissions limits.

Kerry’s decision to move forward in tandem with industry isn’t favored by all groups.

Public Citizen’s Tyson Slocum said Kerry’s strategy has been to cater to the polluters instead of working on a stronger bill.

“The clear signal here is to produce a bill at any cost,” Slocum said. “I don’t think that’s the responsible way to do this. You don’t want to start enshrining giveaways and loopholes to powerful industries.”

While Kerry has been meeting with environmental and industry groups, Kerry’s office has not responded to a request made more than a month ago by Public Citizen and Friends of the Earth to discuss the bill, according to Slocum.

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