The past week brought varied reports from Washington on the status of comprehensive climate change and energy bills. Unable to gain votes to pass the much-publicized American Power Act, Senate Democrats are considering scaling back the economy-wide bill to just the utility sector. Meanwhile, individual senators are stepping up efforts to push one bill that restrains the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases from stationary sources and another that establishes a so-called “cap-and-dividend” program.

Pushing for a Utility-Only Climate Bill

Unable to gain enough votes to pass a comprehensive climate bill, some liberal Democrats are reportedly considering a scaled-down version that would impose a carbon cap only on the electric utility sector.

“It’s not my first choice, but it’s important that we get started in what we’re trying to do," Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), sponsor of the American Power Act, told the New York Times on Monday. The newspaper also reported that the bill’s other sponsor, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) was also considering the option: “I will support pricing carbon, which is what I’ve said from day one is the goal here,” he reportedly said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who had spent nine months drafting the American Power Act along with Lieberman and Kerry before he dropped out in April over an unrelated political dispute, had been quoted in May as saying that the power sector was in most need of a market signal for pricing greenhouse gases.

"We do need to price carbon to make nuclear power and wind and solar and some alternative technologies economically viable," Graham told the New York Times. "On the transportation side, maybe you can reduce emissions without a cap. I don’t know. But you need to put a price on carbon in the power production area at a minimum to jump-start these other technologies."

Firmer details of a possible utility-only bill are expected to emerge after President Obama meets next week with a bipartisan group of senators. Sens. Kerry, Lieberman, Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) are expected to attend.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying that the discussion will include a “wide range of ideas” and said that the notion of enacting a narrowly focused cap-and-trade program that would only include electric utilities would be “welcomed.”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that “the President’s direction on energy is very similar to the direction that is in the Kerry-Lieberman bill, and the President feels strongly that including a component to deal with climate is important in comprehensive energy reform.”

Republican senators, like Alaska’s Murkowski, were doubtful that scaling back the economy-wide American Power Act to the power sector would help climate legislation pass. “It still puts you in the world of cap-and-trade,” Murkowski told CNN on Monday.

Sources: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, POWERnews,

Rockefeller Pushes Congress to Act on Suspension of Tailoring Rule

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, an influential Democrat from coal-rich West Virginia, on Thursday called on Congress to step up efforts to pass a bill that could impose a two-year halt on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act.

The senator, who is also chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation and a longtime member of the Senate Finance Committee, has reportedly been promised a vote on his bill (S. 3072) before the end of the year. He has already rallied 52 votes for his bill, Dow Jones Newswires reported. He will need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

“The Senate should be focusing on the immediate issues before us—to suspend EPA action on greenhouse gas emissions, push clean coal technologies, and tackle the Gulf oil spill,” he said in a statement. “We need to set aside controversial and more far-reaching climate proposals and work right now on energy legislation that protects our economy, protects West Virginia and improves our environment.”

The senator’s statement follows the failure on June 10 of a disapproval resolution in the Senate that would have prevented the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. Rockefeller voted for the resolution, which was sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Murkowski’s resolution failed by a vote of 47 to 53.

Rockefeller said he is working with Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) on legislation that would advance clean-coal technology through carbon capture and storage.

Sources: POWERnews, Dow Jones, Sen. Jay Rockefeller

Cantwell, Collins Seek Support for Cap-and-Dividend Bill

Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) sought political momentum for their “Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal Act” bill in a Washington Post op-ed on Friday.

Also known as the “cap-and-dividend,” their bill proposes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020 and 83% by 2050 by imposing declining limits on carbon emissions from “upstream” sectors that produce or import fossil fuels, like mining, and oil companies. “Seventy-five percent of the auction revenue would be returned to every citizen and legal resident of the United States through equally divided rebate checks—averaging $1,100 for a family of four each year,” the senators said.

The remaining 25% is expected to finance clean-energy research and development; help reduce emissions in agriculture, forestry, and manufacturing; and provide transition assistance for workers and communities in carbon-intensive regions.

The senators said that their 39-page bill—compared to the thousand-plus-page American Power Act that is also being considered in Congress—is a bipartisan effort that “takes a fresh approach to the persistent problem of how to end this country’s dangerous addiction to fossil fuels without harming our economy.”

They said that allocating pollution credits entirely by auction—as opposed to giving them away—would avoid selecting “winners or losers,” thereby creating a “level playing field.” The act would also cut out Wall Street speculators and price manipulators while minimizing destructive price volatility, they said.

“Instead of a behemoth bill designed to conceal backroom deals and giveaways, our framework is a straight path that all Americans can follow,” their op-ed states.

Source: Washington Post