Climate Bill Faces Big Woes

Posted April 28, 2010 at 6:32pm

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) haven’t given up on bringing Sen. Lindsey Graham back into the fold on a compromise climate bill, but the South Carolina Republican isn’t the only obstacle that could stymie their effort.

Beyond the hurdle created by Graham’s decision to pull out of the trio’s climate talks, there are a number of potential pitfalls for the legislation within the Democratic Conference.

For instance, both Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) have jurisdiction over the bill and have yet to be briefed on the legislation’s details.

Lincoln said Wednesday that she has not yet decided whether she will move her own climate bill through her committee since Kerry has not provided her with the legislation.

“We’re going to make sure Agriculture is part of the bill,” Lincoln said, explaining that her course of action “depends on what they come up with, how they intend to deal with” agricultural issues.

Likewise, Baucus — who earlier this year said he intends to move his own climate bill through his committee — said he is still awaiting details on the Kerry legislation and on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) timeline for a floor debate before deciding how to proceed.

“It depends on two things: Sen. Reid’s schedule and what’s in the bill. I haven’t seen it,” Baucus said.

Should Baucus or Lincoln decide to move their own versions, that would likely add weeks or even months to the legislative process.

Climate activists said that Kerry hasn’t provided a bill to Baucus and Lincoln because it has always been the plan that the bipartisan climate change bill would be put forward as legislative text instead of as a formal bill so that it wouldn’t get bogged down in the committee process.

With little movement this week, proponents of action on climate change are calling on the Obama administration to use its power to help propel the bill.

“The president can bridge some of the institutional differences,” the Environmental Defense Fund’s Tony Kreindler said.

While Kerry and Lieberman are continuing to meet with Graham, who walked away from negotiations after Reid signaled that immigration reform could move before climate change, the Massachusetts Democrat has also begun to reach out to other Democrats who have been working on climate issues, including Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

Environmentalists say they are worried that if the original trio of Senators is unable to come to a bipartisan agreement, the stalemate could result in Reid’s moving a pared-down energy package that includes incentives for renewable energy providers and offshore oil drilling but sets no limits on greenhouse gases.

Jeff Anderson, head of the Clean Economy Network, said that he doesn’t believe that option should even be on the table.

“From a business perspective, the last thing we need is an energy-only bill,” Anderson said.

Despite the hurdles, the climate bill’s proponents are lobbying hard to keep the legislation on top of the Senate agenda.

A coalition of more than 170 businesses sent a letter Wednesday to Senators calling on Congress to get back on track and enact comprehensive climate legislation this year. The letter, by the We Can Lead coalition, included signatures from such companies as Exelon Corp., Nike Inc., Virgin America Inc., Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and eBay Inc.

“Every day the Senate fails to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation is a day our economy falls another step behind and delays our ability to create millions of new American jobs,” the letter states.

Still, members of the coalition acknowledged on a conference call Wednesday that the Senate process could be a stumbling block for passage this year.

“It’s going to be tough, but this hasn’t happened in a vacuum,” said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. She added that the Senators have been reaching out to business and environmental groups all along. “A lot of work has to be done, but it’s not as if they are starting from ground zero.”

Lobbyists for climate change groups remain steadfast that the bill is still on track, citing as progress Kerry’s decision to send the legislation to the Environmental Protection Agency and saying that the delay is politically driven.

Advocates for the legislation aren’t just focused inside the Beltway. In particular, national and veterans groups are working to give Graham cover in South Carolina after the Senator took heat in his home state for working on the climate measure. Operation Free: Veterans for American Power held a press event Wednesday at the statehouse praising Graham’s work.

And veterans, along with Sumter, S.C., Mayor Joe McElveen, were also set to hold an event at Shaw Air Force Base supporting Graham on Thursday, according to a source working with the state efforts. Charleston, S.C., Mayor Joseph Riley and veterans are expected to do a similar event Friday.