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Kerry Urges Climate Bill Backers to Get Fired Up

Correction Appended

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is not only working to regain Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) support for a climate change bill, he’s also carrying on a behind-the-scenes campaign to keep industry stakeholders at the table.

Kerry, who has been reaching out to K Streeters and industry groups for the past several weeks to tamp down any opposition to the bill, had succeeded in securing an impressive number of energy companies and others to participate in the scheduled rollout of the bill Monday — which was subsequently scuttled.

General Electric, Duke Energy, Shell, the Christian Coalition and several utility companies were among the stakeholders expected to be present at the unveiling, according to several sources familiar with the canceled event. Graham, who had allied himself with Kerry on climate change, abruptly pulled out of the negotiations this weekend after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) signaled that he may move forward with an immigration bill first.

While Graham’s backing out may have stunted Kerry’s plan for a major public showing of support for his key priority, the Massachusetts Democrat has not stopped his public relations offensive with industry.

Over the weekend, Kerry held calls with the Obama administration and Reid, and he also led conference calls with stakeholders asking for their support and urged them to make a public demand for the legislation.

So far, Big Oil and energy industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity have stayed largely silent following the delay of the bill.

Industry lobbyists said the companies are in a 24- to 48-hour holding pattern, trying to figure out the political shakeout.

“I don’t know how much capital any of these entities are going to spend trying to push a bill uphill,” one Republican energy lobbyist said.

The oil and gas industry has been split on whether to support the legislation with some companies like BP and Shell supportive of the efforts because of offshore drilling provisions, according to former Sen. Bennett Johnston (D-La.).

“I think there’s a recognition that this is going to be put off until next year,” said Johnston, who represents the API. “I have always been a skeptic about the chances of this passing.”

Still, Kerry is continuing to try to cobble together an agreement between Graham and Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.). The trio was slated to meet following the cloture vote on financial services regulatory reform on Monday night.

The Senators were also expected to send the bill to the Environmental Protection Agency for an evaluation on Monday.

While Graham’s departure wasn’t about the substance of the bill, lobbyists said it just reinforced nonbelievers’ predictions that the measure is not going to happen this year.

Despite the uphill prospects, environmental groups are following Kerry’s lead in calling for comprehensive climate legislation this year.

“We’re operating basically under the same plan,” one consultant to environmental groups said. “The message for today is that negotiations are continuing and any reports that the climate bill is dead or not going to happen this year are exaggerated.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. Climate Action Partnership and others are continuing to forcefully push for climate change legislation.

“We’re certainly voicing our message that it’s very urgent to deal with climate change,” NRDC’s David Doniger said.

USCAP also put out a statement urging action on climate.

The group counts environmental organizations and businesses such as the Environmental Defense Fund, PepsiCo, Alcoa and Exelon Corp. as members.

“The U.S. faces a critical moment that will determine whether we will be able to unleash billions in energy investments or remain mired in the economic status quo,” USCAP said in a statement. “Americans need and deserve a comprehensive climate and energy policy that will reinvigorate our economy, create American jobs, unleash American innovation, secure our energy independence, and protect our environment.”

Duke Energy, a USCAP member, also voiced its frustration over the delay.

“We’re disappointed things didn’t come out today,” Duke spokesman Tom Williams said. “There was a lot of compromise going on, on all sides, which is a good thing.”

The energy company is poised to make huge investments in alternative energy like wind and solar and nuclear, according to Williams.

“The time has never been better to deploy new plants,” Williams said. “We’re looking at shutting down all unscrubbed coal plants over the next decade or so. That will accelerate with the climate bill.”

In addition to holding closed-door meetings, Kerry is scheduled to meet this morning with U.S. military veterans from Operation Free, a group that is lobbying for more renewable and domestic energy production with a national security argument. The group is delivering to Kerry’s office a large digital counter that will tally Iranian oil revenues to make its point on what it views as the cost of delaying climate legislation.

Correction: April 27, 2010

The article incorrectly stated that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was expected to be at the rollout of the climate change bill.

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