Reid Energy Plan to Focus on Utilities

Posted July 13, 2010 at 3:02pm

Updated: July 13, 7:06 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said his energy package blueprint will target pollution by electric utilities, but he ducked questions about whether that would include a price or a cap on carbon emissions.

“We’re looking at a way of making sure that when we talk about pollution, we’re focused just on the utilities sector,” Reid said.

Backers of a cap on carbon emissions, including the White House and Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), have tried to find the votes for a scaled-back bill targeting utilities rather than an economy-wide cap-and-trade plan. But even a limited carbon cap has run into bipartisan resistance, and Reid was deliberately vague about whether his bill would target carbon emissions directly.

“Those words are not part of my vocabulary,” Reid said of a carbon cap.

Asked to define what he meant by pollution, he said, “It’s bad stuff in the air.”

Despite Reid’s opaqueness, Senate Democratic sources said the Majority Leader is seriously considering including a cap on emissions from utilities only, but how stringent it would be is unclear. Sources said they doubt Reid would be able to secure 60 votes for any bill that includes a version of cap-and-trade, given that Republicans are poised to brand it as a national energy tax.

Reid said any money generated from the utility provisions would be returned to consumers. Some lawmakers have been pushing a cap-and-dividend approach, which would help them make the case that the bill is not a tax increase.

Reid appeared to be leaving open the possibility of simply going ahead with a renewable electricity standard authored by Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) if the votes aren’t there for a measure targeting carbon.

Reid said the bill would also include sections on the Gulf oil spill; a section on green jobs, clean energy and consumer savings; and a section on reducing energy consumption.

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.