US Senators Agree on Framework for Climate Change Bill

Cindy Saine

A bipartisan group of senators have agreed on a framework for climate change legislation and sent it to President Obama ahead of his trip to the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen.  The senators say they want to send a message to the world leaders meeting there that the U.S. Senate is committed to reducing pollution and creating new jobs. 

Senators John Kerry, a Democrat, Lindsey Graham, a Republican and Joseph Lieberman, an Independent Democrat, have been working for weeks to craft a compromise climate bill that could win the 60 votes needed to pass in the U.S. Senate.

On Thursday, Senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry said they had agreed to merge separate bills on climate change, creating jobs and energy independence.

"This framework should send a strong and clear message to Americans: we can create millions of jobs and increase our economic and national security by setting a target to reduce pollution and make ourselves more energy independent," said Senator Kerry.

The framework backs a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 emission levels by the year 2020.  It also includes plans for wider domestic offshore oil-and-gas-drilling and expanded federal support for clean coal and nuclear power.

Senator Lieberman said the framework is also meant to send a message to world leaders gathered at the climate conference in Copenhagen.

"We send a message to the delegates gathered in Copenhagen that the movement for climate change legislation in the United Senate is alive and well and moving forward," said Senator Lieberman.

Lieberman said the three senators have been in talks with the chairmen of several committees, and with other members of both parties.  He said they do not have the 60 votes needed to move a climate change bill forward yet, but there are more than 60 votes that are in play. 

Many Republican lawmakers have voiced skepticism about climate change legislation, fearing it could mean short-term job losses at a time when unemployment is already high.  But Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said other countries, such as China, India and a number of European countries already know that so-called green energy is the way of the future.

"I believe the green economy is coming," said Senator Graham. "It is not a question if it is going to happen, it is just when it is going to happen, and the sooner the better for me."

Asked why he was not joined in the compromise-legislation effort by any other Republicans, Graham said for him, being for a clean environment is not a partisan issue.

"Why can't America have the cleanest air and the purest water?  And why would any Republican or Democrat not want that to be so," asked Graham.

Graham said that he, Kerry and Lieberman would need to convince Republican and Democratic lawmakers from industrial states that passing legislation to limit greenhouse gas emission is the best way to replace the millions of jobs that have been lost in the recession.  He said those lawmakers that are for building nuclear power plants in the United States again should support this draft legislation.

The White House welcomed the compromise framework announced Thursday, saying the president believes this is a positive development towards reaching a strong, unified and  bipartisan agreement in the U.S. Senate.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pledged to bring climate change legislation to the Senate floor early next year, after focusing on health care reform for much of 2009.

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