WASHINGTON (AP, THE WASHINGTON POST) Senate Democrats gave up plans Thursday to attempt to pass an energy bill that caps greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, abandoning a priority of President Barack Obama.
He had hoped to add such a bill to the two biggest legislative successes of his presidency, a comprehensive health care bill and a broad reform of the U.S. banking and financial sector.
The failure to pass energy legislation also is expected to weaken the U.S. negotiating position heading into international climate negotiations in Mexico at the end of the year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said no Republican was willing to back a comprehensive energy bill, which he called “terribly disappointing.”
Democrats have been trying for more than a year to pass a plan that would charge power plants, manufacturers and other large polluters for their heat-trapping carbon emissions, which contribute to global warming. The House of Representatives voted 219-212 last year for a “cap and trade” plan featuring economic incentives to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, vehicles and other sources.
Republicans slammed the bill as a “national energy tax” and killer of jobs, arguing that the costs would be passed to consumers as higher electricity bills and fuel costs that would lead manufacturers to take their factories overseas. Moderate House Democrats who voted for the bill, particularly freshmen from Republican-leaning districts, are among the Republicans’ top takeover targets in November’s congressional elections.
In recent weeks, Senate Democrats floated a more modest approach that would have limited the carbon tax to the electricity sector. That plan, which drew support from the White House and words of encouragement from Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, was never formally proposed. But it, too, failed to attract the 60 votes needed to advance it in the 100-member Senate.
Instead, Reid and other Democrats said they would focus on a narrower bill that would respond to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and improve energy efficiency.
Reid said the new bill probably will focus on holding oil giant BP PLC responsible for the gulf spill, as well as ways to improve energy efficiency, boost incentives for natural gas vehicles and increase spending on land and water conservation.
Ironically, Chinese officials announced Thursday that they would enact domestic carbon trading programs during the five-year plan period starting next year to help meet their target of reducing the nation’s carbon output relative to gross domestic product by 2020.
“China doesn’t have these problems,” said Joshua Freed, who directs the clean energy program for the centrist think tank Third Way. “It should be a wakeup call that the same day Republican opposition kills a carbon price in the Senate, China announces it will put a price on carbon in 2011.”
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