A gas tax to cure global warming? Compromise looks to revive stalled plan 

A group of senators are trying to resuscitate global warming legislation, but the potential inclusion of a new gas tax threatens to keep action on one of President Obama's signature initiatives stalled.

Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., have pushed aside the politically unpopular idea of passing a "cap and trade" system for regulating most emissions and would instead go after power plants, motor vehicles and manufacturers with targeted taxes and caps.

The lawmakers are hoping to get a bill together in the "coming weeks," according to a Kerry aide, and then find a way to fit it in the already jammed Senate calendar, where the jobs agenda and now health care reform are the priorities.

"Unlike past pieces of legislation, we are taking a careful look at different sectors of the economy to determine the most appropriate policy to reduce emissions in each sector," Kerry spokeswoman Whitney Smith said. "Based on input from all stakeholders, the idea is to take a reasonable, responsive approach to each sector to accomplish an economywide goal."

Even without creating a cap and trade system, such a proposal would face opposition among Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, particularly those who will not support any bill that threatens to raise prices or impose a fuel tax, which could happen under this proposal.

"No bill that collides with the urgent imperative of job creation has a chance right now and to the extent that a climate bill has that feature or is seen as having that feature, it can't go anywhere," said William Galston, a political scholar at the Brookings Institution.

Senate proponents of the bill are up against a daunting deadline, with a little more than six months left to tackle legislative business before the chamber adjourns for 2010 campaigning. Few, if any, endangered Democrats will be willing to vote on a bill that could be unpopular among economically struggling constituents.

"I think they are all in denial," Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a global warming skeptic, told The Examiner on Monday. "They are going to be trying to impose a huge tax on Americans without any positive results. And we're going to be there to remind everybody."

Proponents of the plan believe it can succeed by using the piecemeal approach, which will make it easier to craft a bill that could attract the 60 votes needed for passage. And with Graham already on board, Democrats would only have to round up all 59 Democratic-controlled votes. The proposal would increase domestic oil and gas drilling and would provide federal funding for nuclear energy plants, which could attract moderate votes.

"I don't think the climate and energy issue is dead in the Senate," Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, told The Examiner. "The real question is what kind of bill can you put together that can pass."

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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