Carbon tax seen as hurdle to energy bill

Senators huddle with Obama, but parties remain far apart

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Democratic and Republican senators alike on Tuesday said they want to move forward with a clean-energy bill, but even after a meeting with President Obama there were few signs the lawmakers will be able to bridge a long-standing impasse over putting a price on carbon emissions.

Key Senate Democrats emerged from the meeting, which included 23 senators from both sides of the aisle, saying they’ll still try to make companies pay for carbon pollution - a concept that’s a nonstarter with most Republicans, who say it’s tantamount to a tax on consumers. The White House said Mr. Obama told the lawmakers he supports pricing carbon but most importantly wants to see action this year on measures both sides can agree upon.

“As long as we take a national energy tax off the table, there’s no reason we can’t have clean-energy legislation,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander told reporters at the White House.

The Tennessee Republican said the GOP is willing to work with Democrats on a scaled-down bill that would include the goals of electrifying half of the nation’s vehicles over the next 20 years; building more nuclear power plants; and boosting investments in energy research and development.

The chief authors of Senate Democrats’ energy bill said they are willing to seek a compromise with Republicans, but stood firm on the need to put a price on carbon, raising questions about just how a compromise can be achieved.

“An energy-only bill - we have passed 10 of them since Richard Nixon was president,” Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said. “None of those bills have done the job. An energy-only bill will produce one-tenth the number of jobs, and it will result in one-tenth the reduction in emissions.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Kerry said he and co-author Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, are “prepared to scale back the reach of our legislation in order to try to find that place of compromise.”

In the aftermath of the BP oil spill, Mr. Obama in recent weeks has repeatedly called for a comprehensive energy bill that would help wean the nation off fossil fuels. But in his public comments he has not delved into the specifics of what he’d like to see in such a measure.

In a readout of the meeting Tuesday, the White House said Mr. Obama “told the senators he still believes the best way for us to transition to a clean-energy economy is with a bill that makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America’s businesses by putting a price on pollution.”

The House last summer passed a broad bill that would impose a cap-and-trade approach to global warming, but the Senate has struggled to come up with a similar measure that could garner the 60 votes needed for consideration.

Mr. Lieberman said some Republicans who have been publicly reluctant about the idea of pricing carbon said in the meeting that they would be willing to discuss “limited forms of doing that in this bill,” though he didn’t elaborate, and no Republicans mentioned such an idea.

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, one of the Republicans whose votes Democrats would likely require to move ahead, said Tuesday now is not the right time to pursue an “economy-wide” approach on carbon reduction, given the weak economy.

“The bottom line is that this should be an era of practicality, given our economic situation - and whatever Congress pursues should be viewed through that prism, to develop legislation that is pragmatic, reduces uncertainty, and creates business opportunities for a carbon-free economy of the future, without further harming our economy of today,” Mrs. Snowe said.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Kara Rowland

Kara Rowland

Kara Rowland, White House reporter for The Washington Times, is a D.C.-area native. She graduated from the University of Virginia, where she studied American government and spent nearly all her waking hours working as managing editor of the Cavalier Daily, UVa.’s student newspaper.

Her interest in political reporting was piqued by an internship at Roll Call the summer before her ...

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