In Meeting with Obama, Senators Can’t Support His Call for a Climate Bill

Standoff suggests Senate would give up on climate change law and pursue far more limited proposals instead

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by Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian

Barack Obama’s hopes of leveraging public anger at the Gulf oil spill into political support for his clean energy agenda fell flat today after he failed to rally a group of Democratic and Republican senators around broad energy and climate change law.

The standoff suggests the Senate would formally give up on climate change law, and recast energy reform as a Gulf oil spill response, that would roll in far more limited proposals such as a green investment bank, or a measure to limit greenhouse gas emissions that would apply only to electricity companies.

Such a move would come as a personal rebuff to Obama who has put energy and climate change at the top of his agenda, and who called on the 23 senators at the White House meeting to establish a cap and trade system.

"The president was very clear about putting a price on carbon and limiting greenhouse gas emissions," John Kerry, the Democratic senator leading the push for climate change proposals in the Senate said after the meeting.

"He was very strong about the need to put a price on carbon and make polluters pay," said senator Joe Lieberman.

White House officials say the spill is a wake-up call for the urgency of breaking the US economy’s dependence on fossil fuels, and had hoped to build momentum behind a cap-and-trade bill now before the Senate.

Supporters of action on climate change had been pressing Obama to make a strong push for legislation.

The oil disaster’s ability to dictate events was underlined again today when BP and the coast guard suspended oil skimming operations because of rough seas from tropical storm Alex.

Senators at the much-anticipated meeting acknowledged there was political support only for modest reforms.

Kerry told reporters he was prepared to scale back his proposals.

"We are prepared to scale back the reach of our legislation in order to try and find that place of compromise because we believe and I think the president believes very strongly that what is important for America to get started," The Hill website quoted him saying.

Republican Senators, even those purportedly supporting energy reform, have been adamant in their opposition to putting an economy-wide price on carbon. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican at the meeting, told reporters such moves would be too costly for the average family.

Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said Congress needed to focus on the spill.

"Priority one, two and three for any meeting on energy is to make sure we give the president whatever he needs to clean up the oil spill and to help people who are hurt and to make sure it doesn’t happen again."

The stand-off suggests the Senate will now try to roll energy proposals into a broader Gulf-oil-spill bill that would impose tougher offshore drilling regulations, and higher penalties for oil companies.

The Senate is expected to take up such a bill soon after the 4 July break. But energy proposals could still be in the mix.

Among the measures gaining in support is the establishment of a clean energy deployment administration, or a green bank. The bank would offer direct financing as well as loan guarantees to new energy infrastructure, energy efficiency and manufacturing technology.

The Senate version of the proposals would also extend such loan guarantees to nuclear industry as well as carbon capture and storage projects.

Another key proposal would be a pilot project for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity plants.

(Republished with permission of the Guardian)