Last chance for climate change legislation?

Addressing global warming is a top priority for President Obama and for a bipartisan group of senators who'll offer a bill Monday. But tough issues remain, and time is running out before this fall's elections.

By , Staff Writer

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    Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R) of South Carolina, center, accompanied by Sen. John Kerry, (D) of Massachusetts, left, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, (I) of Connecticut, gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill.
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[UPDATE: Saturday 7:30 pm ET. Senator John Kerry said the announcement of the bill, expected Monday, had been "postponed only temporarily." Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said earlier on Saturday he would have to pull out of the bipartisan climate change effort because of concerns Democrats would push forward with a debate on immigration reform, rather than the climate change bill, in the Senate, Reuters reported.]

It’s crunch time for climate change legislation on Capitol Hill, and the bill to be introduced Monday could be the last chance for passage before lawmakers face voters this fall.

The bill coauthored by Sens. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, and Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut has as its main goal a 17 percent reduction in US greenhouse gas emissions (mainly carbon dioxide) from 2005 levels in 10 years and 80 percent by 2050.

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It has easier requirements on emissions caps for power plants and other major contributors of greenhouse gases – easier than previous legislative proposals. It also has incentives to build new nuclear power plants. There are also provisions for offshore oil drilling.

The measure pleases no one entirely. But many environmentalists see it as the most realistic option given the current political climate. And it’s been endorsed by the Edison Electric Institute (which represents the nation’s largest power producers) as well as three major oil companiesShell Oil Co., BP and ConocoPhillips.

Still, it’s an uphill climb for supporters of climate change legislation – which is also a top priority for President Obama.

“Despite the fanfare that is likely to accompany the announcement, the bill is running almost two months behind schedule and has been losing political momentum for an even longer period,” reports International Oil Daily, noting pressing unrelated issues as well questions about the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill itself. “Over the next several weeks energy legislation will have to compete for time on the Senate schedule with contentious financial reform legislation and the confirmation process for a new Supreme Court justice. The possible introduction of major immigration legislation this summer could also make it more difficult to pass climate change and energy legislation.”

Among what some lawmakers see as unknowns in the bill is whether its transportation provision might amount to a tax on fuel – not a welcome prospect for anybody when economic times remain tough.

"I'd like to support it, but I have to look at it," Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine told the Washington Post, adding that she was concerned about what it would do to home heating oil and gas prices. "In this economy, we have to see how much we can do."

Then there persistent questions about the best way for individuals to do their part in reducing the effects of climate change. For example, in a six-part investigative report the Monitor concludes that buying carbon offsets may ease eco-guilt but not global warming.

But writing at Politico.com – as many Americans are celebrating Earth Day with local events focusing on climate change – Senator Kerry warns of trying to separate domestic energy needs from the longer-range goal of preventing (or at least slowing) global warming.

“In an election year, it is tempting to settle for the “energy-only” bill – then go home and declare victory,” he writes. “But the stakes are too high to do less than we know we can. Workers are counting on the new jobs – now. Our troops are counting on us to break dependence on foreign oil – now. Our children and grandchildren are counting on us to address the climate threat and its effects on the planet they’ll inherit – now. “

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