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Reid: "We don't use the word 'cap and trade'...That's something that's been deleted from my dictionary"
June 11, 2010

Posted by Matt Dempsey

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Dems look for optimism on energy after vote to preserve EPA climate regs


Darren Samuelsohn, E&E reporter

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Proponents of comprehensive Senate climate and energy legislation found reasons for optimism yesterday after squashing a Republican-led bid to put the breaks on U.S. EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases. But the numbers may not be in their favor.

President Obama and many of his Democratic allies hailed the 47-53 vote blocking the resolution from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and said it should serve as a signal that lawmakers must pass a bill this year that tackles the core details.

"Today's vote is yet another reminder of the urgent need to pass legislation that would help America transition to a 21st Century clean energy economy that would create jobs, strengthen our national security, and protect our environment for our children," Obama said in a statement. "The Senate chose to move America forward, towards that clean energy economy -- not backward to the same failed policies that have left our nation increasingly dependent on foreign oil."

"As long as the EPA has a plan and is moving forward, it really puts the pressure on Congress," said Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Senate Democratic leaders, with Obama's help, are planning to push ahead next month with floor debate on that energy and climate bill. But they still lack 60 votes for a measure that includes carbon dioxide limits and are looking toward a special caucus meeting Thursday to discuss the road ahead.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he has not decided whether the bill will entail mandatory caps on greenhouse gases or simply focus on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, energy efficiency and a nationwide standard for renewables. But Reid insisted after a visit to the White House yesterday that he wants to follow the lead of the House, which adopted a broad climate and energy proposal almost a year ago.

"The House has already done their job on energy; we have to do ours in the Senate," Reid said.

Reid added he favors placing mandatory greenhouse gas limits on industry, just not using the controversial "cap and trade" name that has been demonized by Republican opponents.

"We don't use the word 'cap and trade,'" Reid told reporters. "That's something that's been deleted from my dictionary. Carbon pricing is the right term."

Yesterday's six-hour debate on the Murkowski resolution marked the first substantial Senate floor climate change discussion since the 2008 battle over cap-and-trade legislation authored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.). And it gave some swing-vote senators a chance to show some of their cards on the broader debate over proposals to curb greenhouse gases.

All 41 Republicans voted for the measure along with six moderate Democrats: Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

Pryor supported Murkowski's resolution even as he took pains to note that he does not dispute the science connecting man-made greenhouse gases to climate change -- a line of attack used by some of his Democratic colleagues. In a statement after the vote, Pryor said the responsibility for reducing emissions now rests on lawmakers. "Congress should act quickly, but thoughtfully, in developing comprehensive energy and climate policies that meet our nation's needs," he said. "The costs of inaction or wrong action are too great for future generations."

Lincoln also voted for the Murkowski measure, saying during a floor speech that the Clean Air Act is "the wrong tool for addressing greenhouse gas emissions." Congress, she said, "not unelected bureaucrats, should be making the complicated multifaceted decisions on energy and climate policy."

Lincoln, who won her Senate Democratic primary earlier this week while campaigning against cap-and-trade legislation, said in an interview she supports opening up the floor debate next month with a focus first on a bill approved last June by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and did not see a need to amend the proposal with regulations to cap greenhouse gases. "I don't think that's necessary," she said. "Certainly those options and those opportunities might be presented. But I think the first thing is to look at what we've done with that energy bill and begin with that piece."


A handful of moderate Senate Republicans also insisted that while they voted with Murkowski, they too would welcome legislation.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), for example, plugged a proposal she co-wrote with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) that would set up an alternative approach for pricing carbon emissions.

"Let me be clear: Global climate change and the development of alternatives to fossil fuels are significant environmental and economic challenges facing our country," Collins said. "The scientific evidence demonstrates the human contribution to climate change, and we must act to mitigate that impact. But, we must proceed with care and not allow the federal EPA to charge ahead on a problem that affects every aspect of our already fragile economy. Congress, not the EPA, should decide how to regulate greenhouse gas emissions."

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) also voted for the resolution but left room for negotiation on climate legislation. "I strongly believe we should provide the certainty and price signals critical for private enterprise to invest in innovative energy technologies and benefit from new economic opportunities in order for America to remain on the cutting edge so that China does not surpass us -- all of which will also help secure our environmental future by reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

Collins and Snowe, along with Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, were the only three Republicans who had not signed on as co-sponsors to Murkowski's resolution. Brown did not explicitly call for climate legislation, but he did say climate policy ought to be handled by Congress rather than EPA.

"There are ways to renew our national commitment to cleaner sources of energy without breaking the back of our economy," Brown wrote in a Cape Cod Times op-ed. "That includes encouraging greater energy efficiency in our homes, vehicles and offices. It means significant investment in developing additional sources of natural gas and allowing for new nuclear power generation."

Scott Segal, an industry attorney at Bracewell & Giuliani, said the fact that the three moderate Republicans voted for the Murkowski measure signals that they won't blindly support climate policies.

"What I think it shows is that any environmentalist who believes that Senators Brown, Snowe and Collins are going to vote for legislation merely because the environmental community says that it's politically expedient are wrong," Segal said.

Clean Air Watch President Frank O'Donnell said the Republicans' vote on the climate bill is not necessarily a signal that they would oppose a climate bill. "It's going to depend on the specifics of the legislation," he said. "Of those three, the only one that's stepped out on this issue in a positive way is Collins."

Before the EPA vote, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) outlined what he said could be a potential compromise on climate and energy legislation that would entail placing a price on greenhouse gases solely from the electric utility industry. Graham, who dropped out of talks in April with Kerry and Lieberman over politics surrounding immigration, said he could support a "hybrid cap and trade" just for power plants without regulations on trade-sensitive manufacturers and transportation emissions.

Graham also demanded the bill include an infusion of money into the Highway Trust Fund, pre-emption of EPA climate regulations and an expansion of offshore domestic oil and gas production. Graham said he sees his ideas getting attached to legislation (S. 3464) that he co-sponsored Wednesday with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) that would promote energy efficiency, stronger fuel economy standards and more nuclear power.

"This is why I got on Lugar," Graham said. "Lugar performs, I think, a basis. You put wings on Lugar."

Graham said he envisioned his ideas serving as a blueprint for action in 2011. For now, he said the best approach would be for Congress to establish a new commission that studies the nation's energy policy options, including the consequences of the oil spill, growing the highway account and the prospects for regulating carbon. "This could be another commission that goes into the history bins of commissions that didn't do anything. Or it could be some smart people giving us a road map for how to move forward," he said.

Kerry, Lieberman plow ahead

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lieberman sought to capitalize on the arguments that Congress, not EPA should regulate greenhouse gases. "Many supporters of the Murkowski resolution argued passionately that climate change is real but that addressing it is a job for Congress, not the EPA," they said in a statement. "We hope they will now engage with us to pass our pro-business, pro-jobs approach so the EPA doesn't have to do the job that the Senate has failed to do."

Kerry said he has been ordered to work with Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) over the coming weeks "to try to see what we can help do to work through some of the issues people have."

Advocates face an uphill climb in pulling together the votes.

Segal said the close vote on the Murkowski resolution puts "pressure on the advocates of climate policy to select reasonable and rational" approaches to climate legislation, but does not signal that passage is impossible. "It may be a fair read that having seven votes over 40 does mean that there would be little stomach for extreme or inflexible climate legislation," he said.

Senate Republican leaders also hit back at Democrats for trying to link the upcoming climate and energy debate with the oil spill. "What I believe most of my members, if not all of them, and a substantial number of Democrats in the United States Senate will not be interested in is seizing on the oil spill in the Gulf and using that as a rationale, if you will, for passing a national energy tax referred to down here at the White House as 'cap and trade,'" Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters outside the White House yesterday.

And during a meeting in Reid's office, Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) questioned plans to bring up a cap-and-trade bill. "There was a very real worry about cap and trade and about the effect," Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller also said he did not understand the wisdom in pushing a floor debate when sponsors did not have support now to quash a filibuster. "There's some feeling you don't spend time on the floor trying to figure out if you got 60 votes," he told reporters. "You have to understand before you go to the floor that you've got 60 votes."

Other leading Democrats have their doubts too. "I think it is difficult to pass a big bill a few months before a big election," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). "But certainly next year."

Blocking EPA

While the debate over a comprehensive climate bill is hashed out, senators are also expected to rally behind other efforts to limit EPA's authority.

Democratic leadership is expected to allow a vote on a bill from Rockefeller to impose a time-out on EPA rules for two years aimed at industrial emitters, according to a Senate aide. Leadership floated the vote in an effort to draw moderate Democrats away from Murkowski's resolution (Greenwire, June 10). Rockefeller was not a party to any deal, an aide said.

Some industry groups say they could back the Rockefeller bill, although environmentalists say they would oppose any delay in greenhouse gas rules.

Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, said his group hopes that the Senate will quickly take up the two year bill. "The Clean Air Act is not the right vehicle and therefore it should be left to the legislative branch, so Rockefeller would give time for Congress to act," Feldman said.

David Hamilton, director of the Sierra Club's global warming program says his group opposes a two-year delay.

"Everybody acts as if this is some kind of time out," he said. "What this is is an attempt to stop the motivation of the Senate to actually pass something. And if you tell them they have two years, they'll take two years. They may take longer."

Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen said that although Rockefeller's bill is "less damaging to progress on climate" than the Murkowski resolution would have been, it remains a bad option. "Our view is the EPA should do the job that the Clean Air Act prescribes and we don't want to limit it at all."

EPA has not taken a position on the Rockefeller bill, said agency spokesman Brendan Gilfillan.

Environmentalists say they favor an approach under consideration by Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) that would seek to exempt small stationary sources from greenhouse gas regulations while allowing the agency to regulate larger emitters. The proposal is expected to codify EPA's tailoring rule, which would phase in greenhouse gas permitting requirements starting with the biggest polluters.

Industry groups are opposed to that approach.

"I think that codification of the tailoring rule is a wholly unsatisfactory way to approach this issue," Segal said, in part because such an approach would still impose high costs on industry and would result in job losses.

Carper said this week that a failure of the Murkowski resolution might obviate the need for his bill, but it is unclear whether he would offer such a bill to counter the two-year proposal.

Reporter Robin Bravender contributed.


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