U.S. officials in Copenhagen get behind new Senate climate alliance

Cheif U.S. negotiator Todd Stern

Chief U.S. negotiator Todd Stern

COPENHAGEN–A proposal by Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman to rewrite carbon cap and trade as part of a more comprehensive energy bill echoed from U.S. officials in Copenhagen today and won praise from the chief American negotiator here.

“This is quite a significant development, a significant step toward a comprehensive framework for energy reform,” said Todd Stern, who is leading the U.S. delegation in climate change negotiations. “I think the alliance between Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman is a terrific sign, a bipartisan sign, and exactly what we need to get legislation passed in the Senate.”

Stern noted that the senators’ framework–a starting point for negotiations to write a bill–insists that American efforts for energy reform take place in the context of energy reform worldwide, and it includes financial support to help the most needy nations accomplish that.

“The legislation can boost our efforts in all those regards,” Stern said.

The framework includes a carbon cap and trade proposal that would reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020–the same amounts proposed in a bill that passed the House and most likely to gain enough support in the Senate. Greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by at least 80 percent by 2050.

The framework would invest in alternative energy–the topic of a speech earlier Friday by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke–and fund research into so-called “clean coal” technology. Locke said any energy production from coal must be coupled with efforts to eliminate coal’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But the framework also wagers that environmentalists want  a climate bill badly enough to accept some expansion of controversial domestic sources such as nuclear power and offshore oil drilling.

The senators included those provisions to attract support from Republicans and reluctant Democrats in the Senate. They need the support of 60 senators to pass a bill.

Questioned about continued U.S. reliance on coal and oil, Locke assured members of the audience that the Obama Administration would shift support to renewable energy:

“The president has indicated he doesn’t believe in subsidies for fossil fuels,” Locke said.

On Wednesday, EPA director Lisa Jackson said she prefers that a carbon cap and trade program come from the legislature, even though she had signed an endangerment finding on Monday that would allow the president to launch a carbon trading program without legislative cooperation. Legislation would be less likely to be challenged in court, she said, than an EPA regulation.

CORRECTED to reflect that Lindsey Graham, not Phil Gramm, is the Republican partner on this proposed bill.

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