The surprise endorsement of climate-change legislation by a leading Senate Republican has jump-started the languishing proposal but also has raised the prospect that it will include two major items that environmentalists dislike: more nuclear power and more offshore oil drilling.
In an op-ed published Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina joined with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chamber’s leading Democratic advocate of climate legislation, to promote a bipartisan plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
They proposed a compromise that reduces U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions - which are widely considered to contribute to climate change - through a market-based “cap and trade” system, combined with a “clean energy” program providing incentives for nuclear power, offshore oil and gas drilling, and coal emissions controls.
Analysts from the political left and right expressed optimism that the unexpected alliance will improve the bill’s chances of passage. The House narrowly passed its version this summer, but the Senate has long been considered a much tougher sell.
“If Sen. Graham supports action, it’s a very important step forward,” said Daniel J. Weiss, climate strategy director at the liberal Center for American Progress. “Sen. Graham has good standing on both sides of the aisle and it will help with undecided members of both parties.”
Scott Segal, a lawyer at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani who represents energy companies and manufacturers, said by e-mail that the Kerry-Graham plan faces significant opposition but addresses some of the most vexing issues impeding the bill’s progress in the Senate.
“The senators’ position is a definite step forward,” Mr. Segal said. “They have outlined many of the key issues that need to be resolved in order to achieve political consensus behind a bill, and that’s very useful.”
Many obstacles remain. Democrats and Republicans from coal-producing states and the Midwest continue to resist the legislation over fears that it would cause huge increases in the cost of energy that would hurt their constituents and businesses.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, has been adamant that a bill will not pass the Senate unless it includes measures to tax imports from countries that do not limit their carbon-dioxide emissions. President Obama has expressed doubts about the provision, saying it appears to be protectionist. Other Democratic senators, including Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, say they cannot support a bill that drives coal-fired energy prices higher.
Environmental groups tend to oppose nuclear power generation and prefer “green” sources such as wind, solar and geothermal energy. They also routinely oppose offshore oil and gas drilling, saying it threatens the environment without increasing U.S. energy security.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, plans to issue a revised version of the bill soon, which she recently introduced with Mr. Kerry late last month. The bill does little for nuclear power beyond new training programs and is silent about offshore drilling.
Mr. Kerry and Mr. Graham were unavailable for comment Monday.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Kerry could not say whether their plan would be the basis for the committee’s legislation. She said by e-mail that the joint op-ed “signals Sen. Kerry’s and Sen. Graham’s commitment to getting 60 votes in the Senate for climate change legislation.” She added that the two want to make “substantial, bipartisan” progress leading up to the major U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen starting Dec. 7.
Mr. Obama and environmental groups have called on the Senate to act quickly to strengthen his negotiating position in advance of the summit, where developed and developing nations, including China, will meet to draft a new agreement intended to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Reuters news agency reported Monday that Mrs. Boxer, after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said she wants to pass a bill through her committee before the Copenhagen summit. Separately, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told reporters in London that he remains optimistic that Mr. Obama could sign a bill into law by the time the summit opens, though few observers expect the Senate to act that swiftly.