By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 7, 2010; 5:32 PM
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said Friday that it has become "impossible" to pass climate and energy legislation at the moment, a declaration that likely dooms the bill's chance of passage this year.
Graham had spent months trying to craft a bipartisan compromise on the issue with Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), but he suggested late last month that he was unwilling to continue after Senate Democratic leaders said they hoped to push through immigration legislation this year.
His new statement is more definitive and suggests that the one Republican who could serve as a bridge to the GOP on a climate bill will abandon the effort altogether.
The Democrats' immigration push and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have put a halt to any immediate expansion of offshore oil drilling, Graham said, and hampered any chance of reaching a bipartisan deal.
"When it comes to our nation's policy on energy independence and pollution control, I don't believe any American finds the status quo acceptable," Graham said in a statement, adding, "I believe there could be more than 60 votes for this bipartisan concept in the future. But there are not nearly 60 votes today, and I do not see them materializing until we deal with the uncertainty of the immigration debate and the consequences of the oil spill."
Given that many senators from both parties do not want the Environmental Protection Agency to proceed with regulating greenhouse gases, Graham said, "we should move forward in a reasoned, thoughtful manner and in a political climate which gives us the best chance at success. Regrettably, in my view, this has become impossible in the current environment."
"Some believe the oil spill has enhanced the chances energy legislation will succeed. I do not share their view," he added. "When it comes to getting 60 votes for legislation that includes additional oil and gas drilling with revenue sharing, the climb has gotten steeper because of the oil spill."
Despite Graham's statement, Kerry and Lieberman said Thursday that they would introduce the climate and energy proposal next week.
"We are more encouraged today that we can secure the necessary votes to pass this legislation this year," the senators said in a joint statement, "in part because the last weeks have given everyone with a stake in this issue a heightened understanding that, as a nation, we can no longer wait to solve this problem which threatens our economy, our security and our environment."
"Our optimism is bolstered because there is a growing and unprecedented bipartisan coalition from the business, national security, faith and environmental communities that supports our legislation and is energized to work hard and get it passed," Kerry and Lieberman said.
But the loss of their most reliable Republican negotiating partner would make any effort to marshal 60 votes a formidable challenge.
Scott Segal, a lawyer at Bracewell & Giuliani who represents utilities and other companies that would be regulated under a climate bill, said, "The window for action on comprehensive climate change legislation is small and closing."
He added that the fact that the senators have delayed the bill's introduction has only complicated the matter, since energy and manufacturing companies cannot see how the measure would affect them.
"The process to develop consensus on legislation, frankly, has been hurt by the inability of stakeholders to review actual proposed text, as they have in almost every other major environmental legislative initiative," he said.
However David Doniger, policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate center, said Kerry and Lieberman will be able to capitalize on the public opinion shift that's taken place since the oil spill.
"We think the chances have gone up, not down, to enact the legislation," Doniger said. He added that now that the bill will be introduced, "the dice are in the air. They're spinning, and we'll see where they come down."