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Climate Bill Underlines Obstacles to Capping Greenhouse Gases

Still, most of the advocates who have spent years pushing for climate legislation said they hope that this week the Lieberman-Warner bill will get more than the 38 ayes a similar bill got in 2005 and the 43 received in 2003. A coal industry source said their lobbyists counted 45 senators favoring the bill and 47 definitely or leaning against it.

"The question is: Are you building for the future, or are you sending a signal this is just too hard to do?" asked Steve Cochran, who directs the Environmental Defense Fund's national climate campaign. "As long as we get our electricity where we get it from, our gas where we get it from, the same interests are at play, whether you have Democrats or Republicans in charge of Congress and whether you have a Democrat or Republican in the White House."

Some of the bill's strengths -- the most detailed framework yet for how to distribute pollution allowances to emitters, how to determine what offsets polluters can buy and how to contain potential spikes in carbon prices -- have sparked opposition from industry interests as well as politicians concerned about the bill's ultimate price tag.

Duke Energy has been urging its commercial and industrial customers to lobby senators. One is Nucor, a steel company with plants in Indiana and other states whose chief executive is also on Duke Energy's board of directors. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry group, has been running ads in a dozen states with senators believed to be undecided. One ad warns that "we may have to say goodbye to the American way of life we all know and love."

Political and personal differences, as well as policy ones, remain. Some Democrats, according to both Senate aides and environmental activists, resent having to vote for anything authored by Lieberman in light of his active support of the presidential bid of GOP Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). And several senators are questioning why they are being asked to vote on a lengthy substitute version of the bill that Boxer and her allies just introduced a week and a half ago.

Other Democrats question why the leadership is holding a vote that could bolster the environmental credentials of McCain and some Republicans in swing states. Yet even McCain, who co-sponsored earlier climate bills with Lieberman and who talks daily about the need for a cap-and-trade system as he campaigns, said last week that he will miss the vote and opposes this bill because it does not do enough to promote nuclear power. The remaining Democratic candidates, Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), both support the bill but might not leave the campaign trail to vote for it.

All of this has left opponents of the bill, such as Environment and Public Works ranking member and global warming skeptic James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), gloating. Andrew Wheeler, the panel's GOP staff director, said in an interview that Republicans will not filibuster the bill this week because they relish the chance to offer amendments highlighting the bill's effect on energy costs.

"People are looking at this; they're seeing that it's going to do destructive things to energy prices and gasoline prices," Wheeler said.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a close ally of McCain's who is considered a swing vote on the issue, said the fact that Boxer just reintroduced the bill makes it difficult to judge, and he added that he shares McCain's concern about its failure to help the nuclear industry. Still, he said some of his fellow senators need to realize that even if they oppose legislation this year, they cannot delay acting on it indefinitely.

"For my congressional colleagues, I would say the president's going to go down this road and the public's ready to be led down this road," Graham said Wednesday, while riding on McCain's campaign plane. "I don't see an alternative to cap-and-trade."

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