Senator Calls For New Approach On Climate Bill

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Sen. Richard Lugar is urging President Barack Obama to endorse a bipartisan climate change bill that reflects the nation's "economic realities" and does not include the new carbon-based fuel taxes sought by Democratic leaders.

The Indiana Republican, who's sponsoring a rival climate and energy bill, said the Democratic proposal to cap carbon dioxide emissions will go nowhere this year in Congress because of concerns over its effect on the fragile economy.

He said his bill's provisions have a better chance of passage because they focus instead on boosting energy efficiencies and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

"I encourage President Obama to make bipartisanship the starting point of our energy debate, not divisive carbon-pricing schemes," Lugar said in a statement Tuesday before Obama addressed the nation on the Gulf Coast oil spill.

A leading climate bill sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., seeks to tax carbon dioxide emissions produced by coal-fired power plants and other large polluters to reduce pollution blamed for global warming.

Lugar's bill includes incentives to expand nuclear power, boost alternative energy, switch from foreign to domestic oil and upgrade buildings to make them more energy-efficient. It also would require utilities to retire aging coal-fired power plants by 2018.

Lugar press secretary Andy Fisher said Wednesday that if it becomes law, the bill would save Americans and U.S. businesses money on their energy bills and cut the nation's dependence on foreign oil. He said it also would create new jobs by boosting the industry of retrofitting buildings to make them more energy-efficient.

Environmental groups have expressed disappointment with Lugar's bill, including its lack of a carbon cap-and-trade provision. Such a provision, backed by the Obama administration, would set overall limits on carbon dioxide pollution but allow companies to pollute more by paying for it and buying pollution credits from cleaner companies.

The Sierra Club's executive director, Michael Brune, said in a statement after Lugar introduced his bill last week that it had many shortcomings and "is simply not the right path to a clean energy economy."

Tony Kreindler, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund, said Wednesday that the group believes Lugar's bill has some "very good ideas," particularly its emphasis on energy efficiency. But he also said the lack of carbon controls is disappointing.

He noted that an analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that Kerry and Lieberman's bill would cost households an average of $79 to $146 per year.

"It's a very small price tag when you consider the benefits and in particular the cost of inaction," Kreindler said. "And that's something the president was very clear about last night -- that the most damaging and expensive course for the country is not doing anything at all."

Fisher said Lugar would support some type of cap-and-trade provision when the economy is stronger, if it's determined that idea would be workable.

Rob Stone, an energy analyst with investment bankers Cowen & Co., said any climate change bill with a carbon tax provision has little chance of passing Congress this year, partly because of concerns about its potential economic impact. He also noted that midterm elections are five months away.

Legislation that focuses on energy efficiencies, such as Lugar's bill, might have a better chance of passage, Stone said. But he added that voters appear too preoccupied with the economy, jobs and the federal deficit to be concerned with climate change.

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