Democrats put climate change legislation plans on hold
New legislation being developed will directly address the Gulf oil spill.
Thu, Jul 22 2010 at 7:09 PM
ON HOLD: Majority Leader Harry Reid, Sen. John Kerry and Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, tell the media that Republicans continue to block climate legislation. (Photo: Pete Marovich/ZUMA Press)
Democratic lawmakers scrapped plans Thursday to introduce climate change legislation, recognizing they do not have enough votes and preparing instead an energy bill addressing the BP oil spill.
"Unfortunately, at this time, not one Republican wants to join us in achieving this goal" of adopting a comprehensive climate bill, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "That isn't just disappointing. It's dangerous."
President Barack Obama has made climate change legislation a key priority, and told Americans during an Oval Office address in June that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was a sign of the urgent need for energy alternatives.
He called the disaster "the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now" and urged Americans to "seize control of our own destiny."
But Republicans have balked at sweeping energy reform, arguing that policies like "cap-and-trade," intended to limit harmful emissions, will cost American businesses and hobble U.S. innovation.
In the face of unified opposition, and lacking the 60-vote supermajority needed to pass legislation without Republican votes, Reid and Democratic Senator John Kerry said they would focus on a narrower bill for now.
"To be clear: We are not putting forth this bill in place of a comprehensive bill," Reid said.
"But we will not pass up the opportunity to hold BP accountable, lessen our dependence on oil, create good paying American jobs and protect the environment."
Kerry said he would continue to work with Independent Senator Joe Lieberman toward comprehensive legislation that targets carbon emissions "so that we can send signals to the marketplace and change the direction and create jobs for America and improve our security."
The less ambitious legislation being developed would directly address the catastrophic oil spill triggered by an explosion aboard the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20.
It would seek to ensure that BP assumes all the costs of cleaning up spilled oil, propose measures to prevent similar environmental disasters and help create more "green jobs" in clean energy production.
The measures had originally been intended to be included in a broader climate and energy bill, and, unlike cap-and-trade, enjoy Republican support, Reid insisted. The House of Representatives passed a bill that included a cap-and-trade system in June 2009.
Talks on a climate bill could be revived this fall, ahead of crucial mid-term elections in November, lawmakers said.
"We will continue to work with the senators to craft important comprehensive legislation," White House Director of Energy Policy Carol Browner said after meeting with Senate Democrats.
Kerry, a key player in climate negotiations, said he was "absolutely confident" a comprehensive measure could be passed swiftly, and would not suffer the same fate as comprehensive health care reform, enacted earlier this year after decades of bitter political bickering.
Environmentalists, though, said more needed to be done.
"The failure to price carbon leaves a giant hole in U.S. energy and climate policy, and the long-term cost to the United States will be enormous," said Rafe Pomerance, founder of Clean Air-Cool Planet.
Union of Concerned Scientists president Kevin Knobloch said the Senate has an "absolute responsibility to act on climate change this year."
Copyright 2010 AFP Global Edition
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