Continued from page 1

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV has introduced a bill that would block the agency from regulating greenhouse gases for two years. His incoming colleague, Sen.-elect Joe Manchin III, also a West Virginia Democrat, shot a hole through the “cap-and-trade bill” in a campaign ad.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has promised Mr. Rockefeller a vote on the measure sometime this year, during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Despite the domestic headwinds, Kyle Ash of Greenpeace USA said he sees a way forward for international negotiators. Mr. Ash, a senior legislative representative for the environmental group, said the failure of U.S. lawmakers to act shouldn’t affect the dynamics of the Cancun conference and argued that the “cap-and-trade” bills going through Congress, at least in the Senate, were not strong enough anyway.

“Getting a price on carbon would have been about this perceptual political backing for strong action,” Mr. Ash said. “This is totally an issue of leadership from the administration.”

At the same time, Mr. Ash said, the Obama administration deserves blame for leaving the situation so precarious by publicly “denigrating” the Kyoto Protocol, which some countries want to have extended before it expires in 2012. It’s in the president’s interest for his aides to put aside hardball tactics and get something accomplished, he said.

Mr. Ash said the administration’s tough bargaining stance is “making it harder to come to a commitment and it’s the opposite of what Obama said he would do, which is lead on climate.”

Daniel Kish, a senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, an industry-backed think tank, said the administration is “going to have to eat some crow internationally,” but other countries were already skeptical that Mr. Obama would be able to deliver on his pledge.

To placate environmentalists and other interests, Mr. Kish said, the White House likely will push for lawmakers to act on some sort of renewable-energy standard that would require utilities to generate a certain amount of power from renewable sources — a move he argued would hurt the U.S. economy by artificially inflating the price of energy.

“This is just another competitive disadvantage that we’d lay on ourselves unilaterally, which would change the position of the U.S. vis-a-vis the rest of the world faster than is already happening,” he said.