Moderates Warming to Climate Bill?

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 10:55 AM EST

Word around Washington is that the triumvirate of senators working on climate and energy legislation may release more information about their bill as soon as Friday. And with expectations high, the senators are in a final push to convince fence-sitting Democrats and Republicans to sign on.

A spokesman for John Kerry said on Wednesday that the bill he is working on with Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman will be released sometime in the "coming weeks." Earlier this week, the senators indicated that their bill would take a hybrid approach, shunning the term "cap-and-trade" that has defined much of the congressional debate so far. The move aims to revive interest in legislation that many have assumed to be dead. The anticipation among bill-watchers is that they won’t release the legislation until they’ve got 60 senators signed on—so this final push is key.

The sponsors reportedly met with Republicans George Voinovich of Ohio and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and Democrats Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin of Michigan, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Mark Warner of Virginia, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, and Max Baucus of Montana on Tuesday evening. They’ve also been meeting extensively with Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington, who has offered her own alternative measure with Republican Susan Collins of Maine.

So, what do these moderates think of the proposal? A few seem to be warming to the idea.

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"There were some interesting things that were discussed in there and like everything else in the United States Senate, the devil is in the details," Voinovich told reporters after the meeting. He also noted that without final language, it’s still hard to say whether he could endorse it. "There is more meat that has got to be put on the bones." Baucus called the new effort "refreshing," while Stabenow also showed enthusiasm.

Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, who has supported an approach in which the majority of proceeds from the sale of carbon permits are returned to taxpayers in the form of a dividend, told Greenwire: "I think all of those things are very positive steps and give me the sense that people here in Congress are getting the message that the American people want us to be transparent about all things we do, including cap and trade.

Others weren't so positive. A spokesman for Dick Luger (R-Ind.), another potential Republican vote on a climate bill, isn't on board yet. The senator could support climate legislation "potentially at some point, but not at the moment."

Meanwhile, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is leading efforts to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide on the premise that Congress should be given time to pass legislation, said yesterday that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be included in a bill if she is to sign on. (ANWR drilling opens a whole new can of worms, as protecting the region has long been a flagship issue for environmental groups.)

For all the fence-sitters, seeing actual details of the legislation will be the deciding point. Unfortunately, no one seems to know yet when exactly that will happen.

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