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Bingaman: Climate Change Bill Hinges on White House Backing

Senate Energy Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said this morning that the prospects for passing greenhouse gas reductions in the 110th Congress will depend on the level of White House support.

“It depends very much on whether the White House is willing to work with us,” Bingaman said at a Platts Energy Podium briefing. If the administration continues to oppose mandatory limits, he said, “it’s going to be very difficult.”

The Senator’s comments highlight the obstacles facing climate change legislation in this Congress. The Bush administration favors voluntary efforts and technological solutions, while the legislation now pending in Congress uses mandatory cap-and-trade emissions programs.

The split also highlights a dilemma faced by proponents of cracking down on factors that promote global warming: whether to press ahead with less stringent efforts now, in the hope of gaining White House support, or to lay the groundwork for a administration in 2008 that would be likelier to favor stronger climate efforts. Most if not all Democrats would favor far more aggressive steps to counter climate change than President Bush, and at least one leading Republican, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), has gone so far as to co-sponsor legislation on the issue.

Bingaman acknowledged the dilemma during today’s briefing.

“I do not kid myself to think we could get enough votes to overide a presidential veto,” he said. However, he said lawmakers should move forward with legislation in this Congress anyway, noting that lawmakers can always revisit the issue in a subsequent session. “My own sense is this is an issue we [should] deal with as soon as we can,” he said.

Doing so would strengthen the United State’s hand in future international negotiations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Bingaman asserted.

A spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality emphasized the administration’s ongoing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but did not address cap-and-trade proposals.

Within weeks, Bingaman will introduce his own climate change bill, co-sponsored with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). It would enact a cap-and-trade mechnism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A draft of the bill has been criticized for including a controversial “safety valve” that allows companies to opt out of the scheme by purchasing permits if the economic burden becomes too great.

Bingaman said he is currently considering whether the price of the safety valve can be increased. Still, he said the economic impact of any regulatory scheme must be minimal.

“We need to have a long-term policy to curb greenhouse gas emissions without damaging our economy,” he said.

Bingaman said he also favors federal preemption of state and local government efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions.

“I commend all the states” on their climate-change efforts, he said, calling them a “stimulus to the federal government to adopt a federal cap-and-trade scheme.” He added, however, that the efforts would create a problematic patchwork of regulations around the country. State officials in recent weeks have urged Congress not to preempt their efforts.

On another issue, Bingaman questioned whether the country can meet the ambitious goal laid out by the president in his State of the Union address — reducing domestic consumption of foreign oil by 20 percent in the next 10 years through increased use of biofuels.

“We’re looking at how much of that goal can be accomplished realistically,” he said, noting that he “hasn’t heard anyone say how we get from there to 2017.”

Separately, the Senator said he expects to see an increase in power generated from nuclear plants in response to climate change concerns, but said that the current Congress is unlikely to break a logjam over disposition of nuclear waste at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.

“Congress is in a kind of holding pattern” on nuclear waste, Bingaman said, given the opposition of home-state Senator, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) to the Yucca project.

Bingaman’s committee is also looking at a bill to resolve a dispute over oil and gas royalties in the Gulf of Mexico, and separate legislation on energy efficiency standards and renewable energy mandates.

Bingaman also noted that the Senate Finance Committee is considering bills to extend and possibly expand tax credits for energy production and renewable sources.

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