Lieberman Goes Nuclear on Climate Bill

Posted October 6, 2009 at 6:26pm

While he’s no longer a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) has been working behind the scenes to try to woo bipartisan support for a climate change bill this year. Lieberman, who relinquished his seat on the EPW panel after actively campaigning for Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential bid, is aligning with a group of Senators including McCain, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.). The Senators are crafting a nuclear energy amendment that they hope will be the key to getting some type of climate change reform approved by the chamber in the coming months.Last week, EPW Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) unveiled a far-reaching climate measure. But the bill — which is seen largely as a place holder — has few fans.“Do I think the climate change bill is going anywhere? No. But in its ashes are opportunities for bipartisan, incremental reform,— Burr said. Indeed, McCain suggested Lieberman’s amendment could be offered as an alternative way of tackling climate change, rather than the broad Boxer-Kerry bill. “I introduced legislation with Sen. Lieberman in the past twice. I’m certainly not opposed to it,— McCain said. A GOP aide described Lieberman’s amendment, which has not yet been introduced, as “a wish list of needed reform to increase nuclear energy production.—To hear Lieberman describe it, his amendment and the ongoing negotiations are a way to “satisfy those concerns so we can get something started.— Lieberman, who co-authored a climate change bill in 2007 with then-Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), said he sees himself as a “moderator— in this year’s debate, which may not even come to fruition thanks to the time-consuming health care reform debate. “I’m talking with people who are not part of the Boxer-Kerry bill right now. It’s the beginning of the process,— Lieberman said last week, adding, “I’m trying to build a bridge to get 60 votes.—Lobbyists say Lieberman is uniquely positioned to broker a deal given his longtime support of the nuclear industry.Lieberman also has a network of former staffers-turned-Obama-administration-aides to lean on, including David McIntosh, associate administrator of the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations at the Environmental Protection Agency, and Joe Goffman, who recently announced he was leaving the Hill to become a senior counsel at the EPA.“Lieberman’s past efforts give him credibility in this area,— one veteran energy lobbyist said. “He’s the one Member who could reach across the aisle to get a significant nuclear title.—If Lieberman is successful in drawing out Republican support from McCain and perhaps GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), he may be able to win over conservative, pro-nuclear-energy Republicans such as Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.), who have been ardently opposed to the climate change bill. If Boxer decides to incorporate Lieberman’s proposal into her climate plan, she risks alienating her environmental supporters. Boxer historically has not supported nuclear subsidies, but she now is showing a willingness to consider them. “I really appreciate Sen. Lieberman’s involvement in helping us reach the 60-vote threshold,— Boxer said through a spokeswoman. Boxer’s new willingness to consider a nuclear energy amendment may be due, at least in part, to environmental groups showing flexibility on the issue.“Folks are putting a priority on passing a bill,— said Tyson Slocum, head of Public Citizen’s energy group. “There’s been a lot of tolerance by environmental groups to not dig in their heels on some of the key details.—Lieberman may have another constituency to worry about, however. In courting moderates, the Independent Democrat will have to make sure not to alienate too many of the Senate’s liberals. But Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said liberals could be willing to consider options to prompt Senate action on climate change this year. Democratic leaders have said a climate change bill is a priority but haven’t set a specific timeline for passing it.“We have to look and see what the attitudes are. The environmental community is not happy at the prospect, but you have to look at where things are,— Lautenberg said. “Nuclear was a dirty word around here,— he added. But in the interest of striking a deal, the word, Lautenberg quipped, is now just “mid-dirty.—