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Energy Bill Picking up Steam in Congress?

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After months of uncertainty as to the direction Congress and the Administration are going to take on energy, the next few weeks should bring some clarity, even though an energy bill on the President’s desk is still many rancorous months away. The long-awaited Kerry-Graham-Lieberman draft of a climate bill is slated to be released on April 26th, and President Obama is weighing in: “Obama Wants Senate to Tackle Climate Bill After Wall St. Reforms”, by Darren Samuelsohn, The New York Times):

“This is one of these foundational priorities from my perspective that has to be done soon,” Obama said of the climate bill Friday during a White House meeting of outside experts helping the administration on economic recovery plans.

Obama predicted several weeks of Senate debate on the financial reform package, with lawmakers working behind the scenes on a climate bill that must get support from industry if it has any chance of passing.”

Perhaps the most significant recent indication that the President is engaging with this issue at a high level was a meeting between Rahm Emmanuel, Obama’s Chief of Staff, and the leaders of some of the major environmental and climate advocacy groups, during which it seems he shared an Administration commitment to fight for a bill in the next few months. One might guess, however, that that message is tied to some uncomfortable concessions for that community.

Senator Kerry, one of the main players on the Congressional climate stage, today (“John Kerry sees an energy ‘moment’”, by Jeanne Cummings, Politico) gave a number of clues to what may be in the “tri-partisan” package, including: a price on carbon emissions, but not via the cap-and-trade mechanism in the House-passed bill; consumer protection payments to alleviate energy cost-based financial hardship; and, significant assistance for industries such as coal, which will help supporters frame this effort as a job creator.

As I see it, the key to successfully moving a climate bill will be the number of Senators who show signs of embracing the efforts put forth by Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman. That alone will be the signal to the Majority Leader for whether this bill has “any legs” in the Senate.

That being said, mere passage of a bill in the Senate does not a law make. “KGL”, as it is now being called, is vastly different to the House-passed Waxman-Markey bill. Reconciling those differences would be difficult under the best of circumstances; and, the clock continues to tick, with barely 70 legislative days left in the 111th Congress. Stay tuned …

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