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Kerry, Lieberman Want More Time to Hash out Energy Bill with Utility Interests

With financial reform and the unemployment extension finished, the Senate has to actually think about what to do next! (Kidding). They still want to finish a small business lending and tax break bill, the war supplemental will have to be dealt with, and Elena Kagan’s confirmation will wrap up in the August work period. But there’s also the energy and climate bill, which is scheduled to begin debate next week. Harry Reid says he’s “almost done” with the bill, but John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, who are clinging to some kind of carbon cap, say they need more time.

“[The utility companies] want to work with us to see if they can negotiate an agreement on a utility-only bill,” Lieberman said. “But as far as they are concerned, they can’t do it in 10 days, so they pleaded for more time, and I think that is something we ought to consider.”

“I hope that we are not going to force ourselves to be constrained by an artificial schedule,” Lieberman added.

After meeting with electric utility officials Tuesday morning, Kerry said the “irony of ironies” is that the industry prefers a draft plan he and Lieberman released in April that would spread a carbon-pricing program more broadly across the economy.

“They believe the allocations and the structure we created [in the original plan] really meets their needs,” Kerry said. “Whether we can replicate that now in terms of what we’re doing is what we have to go back and try to find out.”

It’s not an irony that the utility industry doesn’t want to bear the sole burden for a cap on carbon. It’s an irony that a legislator thinks they have to delay legislation because the industries it would legislate haven’t had enough time to weigh in on it.

Regardless of the “progress” cited by enviro groups about the utility-only cap, a simple check of key Democratic senators like Ben Nelson, Carte Goodwin and others shows that it has no chance of passing. Some aides have openly discussed moving away from the cap and toward a stronger renewable energy standard, efficiency title and oil spill response to make up the gap. But time is short, and if passing an energy bill in July of an election year sounds remote, passing it in September sounds impossible.

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David Dayen

David Dayen