Obama Postpones Energy Meeting With Senators

President Obama was scheduled to meet with senators from both parties to talk about energy Wednesday. Instead, he will meet with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whose comments to Rolling Stone magazine launched a firestorm of criticism. While an energy and climate bill was introduced in the Senate last month, it has failed to move forward. Sen. John Kerry, a co-sponsor of that bill, talks to Steve Inskeep about the wrangling over energy legislation.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And in Washington, a scheduling change may tell you something about the effort to fight climate change. President Obama was expecting to meet today with about a dozen senators. He was going to talk about an energy bill. Now, that meeting has been postponed.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The president will deal instead with the uproar over his general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal. Minor, though, it is, that rescheduling suggests just how many issues are competing for the government's time and energy right now. Climate change is just one.

Senator John Kerry is cosponsoring a bill to deal with climate change in the Senate, where it will be hard to roundup 60 votes. The Democrat knows he needs some Republican support.

Has the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in any way significantly changed the debate over climate change and energy?

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Well, I think it's accentuated the urgency in significant ways. And I think polling data, to the degree that that's important, indicates that there's been a sea change of attitude by Americans about their willingness to bear some burden in order to begin to get off of fossil fuels and begin to move into a newer and more modern energy status for the country.

The key here is to try to price carbon. We don't price carbon. Carbon does great damage. It has a price, and we pay huge damages. We have huge hospital costs for children with asthma because of air quality. We have fish that are killed. I mean, there are countless ancillary damages as a consequence of our burning fossil fuel. And what we need to do is begin to price that appropriately so the economy begins to say, OK, we've got to move in a different direction.

INSKEEP: What do you mean by people's willingness to bear burden? Do you think that people are willing to pay a higher price for energy at this point?

Sen. KERRY: Well, they actually don't need to pay a significantly - I mean, not even a real higher price in the early years. The EPA and other analyses of our legislation say that it will result in a net reduction in home energy costs. And then there's a small cost of anywhere from $79 to $150 for an entire year. That's it. I think it's important for us to understand that if it costs us $79 a year, $150 a year to move to energy independence, to reduce environmentally induced problems that people have, if it costs us $150 to do that, I think most Americans would be willing to do that if they were really told what it's going to do and how it's going to happen.

INSKEEP: You've probably got elements of the bill you would hope to pass, elements of this bill you think you've got a good chance to pass, and elements you know you can pass. What's a bare minimum that you know you can pass, key elements of the bill that you know you can pass this year through the U.S. Senate with 60 votes?

Sen. KERRY: Well, look, everybody here knows we can pass an energy bill. We can do a bill that provides incentives for alternatives and renewables. We can do a bill that has incentives for energy efficiency. We can do all of that. That's easy. There's only one question before the United States Congress and the country, and that is: Can we get started pricing carbon? And pricing carbon requires us to go a little further than we've ever gone before. If all we do is another energy bill, we will reduce emissions by 1/10th the level than if we price carbon, and we will create 1/10th the number of jobs.

INSKEEP: Can you get a substantial number of Republicans - seven, eight, nine, 10 - enough that they can stand together and (unintelligible)?

Sen. KERRY: I think if we construct a reasonable bill and if we put our heads together in good faith and really look for a solution, hopefully we can do something really good for America.

INSKEEP: Do you have to get seven, eight, nine, 10 Republicans in order to get even one?

Sen. KERRY: No, but we need to get a few.

INSKEEP: But it seems unlikely you would get one Republican. That would be so political difficult for that one Republican. Can you get...

Sen. KERRY: You'll have to speak to them. I'm not going to describe their lives.

INSKEEP: Does this point to the challenge of dealing with climate change, because energy is so interwoven with the economy and with everybody's interests?

Sen. KERRY: Yeah. There is only one solution to climate change. It is energy policy. What creates climate? The change that's taking place. It's greenhouse gases. The greenhouse gases come through, primarily, America's not exclusively but primarily the use of fossil fuels. Seventy percent of the oil we burn, the fossil fuel we use, goes in transportation or production of electricity through coal.

INSKEEP: Senator, thanks very much.

Sen. KERRY: Thanks. Good to be with you.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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