Senators Unveil Energy Bill Despite Setbacks

Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) announcing their climate change bill. i i

Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) announce their energy bill at a news conference with industry leaders in Washington on Wednesday. Harry Hamburg/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Harry Hamburg/AP
Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) announcing their climate change bill.

Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) announce their energy bill at a news conference with industry leaders in Washington on Wednesday.

Harry Hamburg/AP

For more than a year, a small group of powerful senators has been working behind the scenes, trying to craft a new energy bill that all the big stakeholders can agree to.

On Wednesday, Sens. John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman unveiled that bill — with the help of an unlikely mix of backers that included an environmentalist, an energy company CEO and an evangelical pastor. Still, like all things in politics, the bill's fate may depend as much on timing as on its popularity.

The measure aims at cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent in the next decade. It would create a limited cap-and-trade system for companies to buy and exchange emissions credits.

"The most important and unique thing this bill does is to put a price on carbon that reflects its real cost to our society and our economy," Lieberman said.

That doesn't quash growth, the Connecticut senator said, it encourages it — "because it becomes financially attractive once carbon is really priced at what it costs us."

Up until a few weeks ago, the bill had been dubbed the "tripartisan" energy bill — because the independent Lieberman, Democrat Kerry and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham worked together to build it.

But Graham dropped his support of the bill in a political scuffle over immigration — and then there was the oil rig explosion and massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Call it a PR nightmare for a bill that promoted new offshore oil drilling. So its unveiling was delayed and the bill was tweaked to allow states to veto new offshore drilling plans within 75 miles of their coasts.

Even with these setbacks, Kerry said Americans should be able to see that the country is in a trap.

"We're weighed down by a broken energy policy, built on a dangerous addiction to foreign oil," he said. "We're threatened by the impacts of a changing climate. And right now, as one of the worst oil spills in our nation's history washes onto our shores, no one can doubt how urgently we need a new energy policy in this country. Now is the time to take action."

As for its actual prospects in the Senate, Lieberman and Kerry seemed convinced the bill will pass this year. President Obama pledged his support Wednesday as well.

But even viable seeds won't grow in poisonous soil — and the Senate is pretty toxic these days. Not to mention the financial regulation bill, the new Supreme Court nominee and the massive oil spill that are taking up a lot of the Senate's brain space.

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