White House quietly lobbies Senate as climate bill stalls

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Climate-change legislation has stalled on Capitol Hill, but the White House’s unofficial “Green Cabinet” is quietly trying to revive the effort by lobbying dozens of senators.

President Obama has dispatched Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson to Capitol Hill. White House aides said that they and other executive branch staffers, such as climate-change czar Carol Browner, have met with “dozens” of senators.

They are working to assure key senators - ranging from Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, to John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat - that a climate-change bill is viewed as a “priority” by the administration, Capitol Hill sources said.

Mr. Kerry hosted several top Obama officials at his home this spring, and he and Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, hold a weekly meeting that White House officials have frequented.

Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled that he thinks the bill won’t see the floor until next year, but the private message from the leadership is firm, Senate aides said: Get the bills out of committee as soon as possible.

Similar to the health reform battle, the plan is working its way through multiple committees - five on the Senate side before a plan is meshed with the House bill, which narrowly passed in June by a 219-212 vote. The Energy Committee is the only Senate panel that’s passed a version so far.

A White House aide said the “Green Cabinet” is asking senators to support a comprehensive plan - though some vulnerable lawmakers would prefer that the bill be split into more politically tenable pieces - and is asking them to share ideas for what to include in the legislation.

As those meetings take place behind closed doors, some senators are striking deals on individual bits such as coal and nuclear issues, sources on Capitol Hill and in environmental groups say.

But that’s not enough for some groups that say timing is of the essence.

Kert Davies, research director at Greenpeace, faulted Mr. Obama for not providing clear markers and said he worries time is running out before the major climate summit in Copenhagen in December.

“I totally understand where they are on health care and that it’s all hands on deck for that issue, but that said, we’re going to need a lot of presidential leadership to get this done,” said Tony Kreindler, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund.

“We need leadership from the top,” Mr. Davies added. “It’s hard to imagine them getting this done without clear prioritization from the White House.”

Michael Levi, the Council on Foreign Relations’ senior fellow for energy and the environment, said the benchmarks for Copenhagen needn’t be passed legislation, but rather a feeling of momentum.

“The key is for there to be a sense that there is momentum going forward … that the international process is not being entirely derailed, because if there is that sense on Capitol Hill, there will be enormous reluctance to move anywhere on cap-and-trade legislation,” he said.

Others said the bill is at a “crucial and long-coming moment.”

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About the Author

Christina Bellantoni

Christina Bellantoni is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times in Washington, D.C., a post she took after covering the 2008 Democratic presidential campaigns. She has been with The Times since 2003, covering state and Congressional politics before moving to national political beat for the 2008 campaign. Bellantoni, a San Jose native, graduated from UC Berkeley with ...

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