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

Well, today, the bill was unveiled to the applause of an unlikely coalition of business interests.

But as NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, its fate may depend as much on timing as popularity.

ANDREA SEABROOK: An environmentalist, an energy company CEO and an evangelical pastor walk into a Senate hearing room. It's not a joke. It happened today. These are some of the supporters of the new energy bill Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman introduced today.

The environmentalist is Larry Schweiger of the National Wildlife Federation.

Mr. LARRY SCHWEIGER (President and CEO, National Wildlife Federation): The price of congressional paralysis in America's addiction to oil can no longer be hidden. When oil flows into our Gulf waters as fast as our gasoline money is flowing to the Persian Gulf, it's time for a new energy policy here in America.

SEABROOK: The energy CEO is Jim Rogers of Duke Energy.

Mr. JIM ROGERS (CEO, Duke Energy): We can protect consumers while we pursue our clean energy goals.

SEABROOK: And evangelical pastor is Joel Hunter.

Mr. JOEL HUNTER (Senior Pastor, Northland Church): Being a good steward of our Earth and our atmosphere is the right thing to do. The Hebrew and Christian scriptures, the Quran, the Vedas of the Eastern traditions, all say that to protect the Earth is to honor God.

SEABROOK: The bill 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 and, said Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman:

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): 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.

SEABROOK: And that doesn't quash growth, said Lieberman; it encourages it.

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Because it becomes financially attractive once carbon is really priced at what it costs us.

SEABROOK: Up until a few weeks ago, this bill had been dubbed the tri-partisan energy bill. That's because the Independent Lieberman, John Kerry, the Democrat, and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham worked together to build it. But then Graham dropped his support of the bill in a political scuffle over immigration. And then there was that oil rig explosion, that massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Call it a P.R. 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 today, Americans should be able to see that the country is in a trap.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): We're weighed down by a broken energy policy built on a dangerous addiction to foreign oil. 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.

SEABROOK: As for its actual prospects in the Senate, Lieberman and Kerry seemed convinced it'll pass this year, and President Obama pledged his support today. But even viable seeds won't grow in poisonous soil, and the Senate is pretty toxic these days. Not to mention a financial regulation bill, a new Supreme Court nominee and a massive oil spill taking up a lot of the Senate's brain space.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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