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Stripped down energy bill leaves out 'cap and trade'

Without 'cap and trade,' Senate majority leader Harry Reid said Tuesday the narrower energy bill has a better shot at overcoming GOP opposition.

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They weren't the only ones upset. Renewable energy industry trade groups that have been back on their heels during the recession had been lobbying hard for a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) to be part of the Reid-proposed Senate energy bill.

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That would have required utilities in all 50 states to get a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable energy and energy efficiency – a big boost to wind, solar, geothermal, and other non-fossil fuel sources. But they didn't get that either.

"The US wind industry is in distress," said Denise Bode, president of the American Wind Energy Association in a statement after the bill was released. "Wind power installations to date this year have dropped by 57% and 71% from 2008 and 2009 levels.... An RES is a critical component to ensure the US wind industry thrives.”

In an attempt to win the 60 votes needed in the Senate to overcome the threat of a Republican filibuster, Democrats this year had followed a Rubik's Cube approach to comprehensive climate-energy legislation, exploring different combinations they felt might draw even a few GOP senators' support.

There was an economy-wide cap-and-trade proposal that would have capped carbon emissions and sold permits to industrial, utility, and other big emitters. But that was soon labeled "cap-and-tax" – political poison in an election year. Another “clean-and-green” energy-only bill was weighed – as was a utility-only cap-and-trade (the Kerry-Lieberman bill). Finally, even a direct carbon tax was considered.

But none of these were filibuster proof. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, was the only Republican to ever publicly considered voting for a climate-energy bill. Taking the slender offerings they received Tuesday, environmentalists though angry are now are lining up to try to help Reid in what is likely to be a struggle to pass even a much-diminished energy-environment bill.

President Obama called Reid's bill "an important step in the right direction." But he added, "I intend to keep pushing for broader reform, including climate legislation, because if we've learned anything from the tragedy in the Gulf, it's that our current energy policy is unsustainable."

Reid's push for a slender energy bill is now competing for precious time in the next two weeks as the Senate also holds pre-August recess votes on a food-safety bill, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, and a jobs bill.