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Climate change bill to roll out next week

WASHINGTON — Even without their top Republican partner — and with an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico darkening prospects for success — the chief architects of a climate change and energy bill plan to unveil their measure on Wednesday.

The bill, by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions nationwide 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, while spurring nuclear power and investing in so-called “clean coal” technology designed to trap carbon dioxide spewed by coal-burning power plants.

The two senators had planned to roll out their legislation two weeks ago, with the help of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been working with them for months to craft a bill that could win support — or at least mute opposition — from the oil and gas industry and has a chance of passing the Senate. But Graham pulled out of the tripartisan alliance days before the unveiling because Democratic leaders said they planned to advance contentious immigration legislation that has long odds of passage before the climate change bill.

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman had been planning on using provisions to expand offshore oil and gas drilling as a sweetener to lure support from Republicans whose “yes” votes could be critical to winning the 60 votes necessary to overcome procedural hurdles in the Senate. But the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico changed the calculus and spurred some Democrats to threaten to oppose the climate change bill if it boosted offshore drilling.

Though Lieberman earlier this week insisted that the oil and gas provisions should stay in the bill, he has signaled that they were being revised in the wake of the oil spill.

More state power?

One of the provisions that might get dropped would have given states more power of drilling decisions near their shores — well beyond the typical three-mile boundary defining state waters. For instance, states would have the chance to authorize drilling nearby or block it as far out as 75 miles beyond their coastlines.

Nuclear power, coal

Although the oil and gas provisions originally were viewed as key to luring Republican votes, offshore drilling foe Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said there were other elements of the bill that might attract Republican support, including boosts for nuclear power and clean coal.

“So I don't think that this is a single-item issue,” Menendez said.

Graham said there “are not nearly 60 votes today” and that he didn't see that threshold reached “until we deal with the uncertainty of the immigration debate and the consequences of the oil spill.” Nonetheless, Kerry and Lieberman insisted that they've “made new progress on the path to 60 votes.”

By JENNIFER A. DLOUHY -Houston Chronicle
May 8, 2010, 12:14AM