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Sens. Kerry and Lieberman introduce compromise climate bill

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2010; A06

Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced a compromise climate bill Wednesday, hoping public concern about the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will boost the measure's long-shot chances for passage.

While the legislation is different from the House-passed climate bill in several respects -- it seeks carbon reductions from separate sectors of the economy rather than imposing a nationwide limit, and it provides more incentives for new nuclear power and offshore oil drilling -- it still faces a steep hill in attracting the 60 votes needed for passage.

"There are those who will say this is the wrong political season," Kerry said at a news conference, surrounded by business and environmental leaders. "But we're here today because we believe good policy is also good politics."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that he and other Republicans will fight the legislation. "Whatever its intentions, this bill is little more than a job-killing national energy tax," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has made it clear that the climate bill needs to be within striking distance of 60 votes before he will bring it to the floor.

The one GOP senator who helped craft the proposal, Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), abandoned the effort last month. He said last week that the bill has a diminished chance of passing, in part because of Senate Democrats' desire to pass immigration reform this year.

The climate measure would provide financial incentives for a range of energy producers, including regulatory risk insurance for 12 new nuclear plants, $54 billion in loan guarantees, $2 billion a year for coal technologies that can capture and store greenhouse gas emissions, and $7 billion a year to improve the nation's transportation infrastructure and efficiency.

It aims to encourage offshore oil drilling but also imposes significant checks on the activity by giving states the right to veto oil drilling off the shores of a neighboring state and opt out of drilling that would occur in waters within 75 miles of their own shores. It requires an Interior Department study to determine which states could be economically and environmentally affected by a spill, and those states would be able to block drilling by passing legislation. The states that go ahead with drilling would retain 37 percent of the federal royalties raised as a result.

The White House issued a statement Wednesday praising the two senators, saying their "legislation will put America on the path to a clean energy economy that will create American jobs building the solar panels, wind blades and the car batteries of the future."

Graham did not endorse the bill outright Wednesday, though he indicated that he is open to backing it.

In an interview, Lieberman said he is optimistic that the support of business leaders -- including representatives of Honeywell, Dow Corning, Duke Energy and the Edison Electric Institute who attended the news conference, along with ones from BP and Shell, who did not appear -- makes reaching 60 votes "doable."

"A lot of those folks standing with us today are the Republican base," he said. "There's more business support for this bill as of today than any Democratic initiative than I can remember."

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