WASHINGTON - The Obama administration will press ahead with climate control legislation, despite difficult odds of passage before December's international summit on global warming.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the Reuters Washington Summit that he was putting in long hours on climate issues and believes there was a reasonably good possibility that the Congress could deliver legislation reducing carbon dioxide emissions in time for the Copenhagen meeting.
Look, I'm still going to be optimistic and say there is a chance that there will be a bill that the Senate and House have agreed upon that goes before the president before Copenhagen, Chu said.
But Senator John McCain, who wants to rejuvenate nuclear power in the United States to help reduce carbon pollution, said there's been no progress and he accused Democrats of being beholden to environmentalists who oppose an expansion of the industry.
I'd like to see one concrete commitment on the part of the administration and Democrats, McCain told the Reuters Washington Summit on Wednesday.
Instead, the conservative Republican who unsuccessfully ran for president against Barack Obama last year, complained that Nevada's Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository has been defunded and no plans were in the works for recycling spent fuel, while loan guarantees to build new plants were insufficient.
But Chu said an effort was being made to provide new government help for the nuclear industry, including possibly expanding the $18.5 billion loan guarantee program for expanding nuclear power generation.
Conservative Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close friend of McCain's, announced this month that he would work with leading Democrats to fashion a climate change bill he could vote for. Since then, Chu has followed up with him.
Scientists blame carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels for global warming and more severe storms and droughts. December's meeting in Copenhagen is an attempt to bring deep reductions in the world's carbon emissions, building on the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012.
CAP AND TRADE
While enactment of a U.S. climate bill would boost the trust of developing nations in Washington's intentions in Copenhagen, it wasn't just McCain challenging Chu's optimism.
I don't think we're going to have cap and trade enacted this year, Senator Charles Grassley told the Reuters Washington Summit. He was referring to the mechanism Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress want to create to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Under cap and trade, a huge new system for trading an ever-declining number of carbon pollution permits would be created. Many Republicans and moderate Democrats in Congress fear the regime would result in higher energy prices. And some lawmakers fear the creation of a new Wall Street casino at a time when Americans are still angry over investor excesses that touched off the deep recession.
Instead of a domestic climate change bill, Grassley said there should be an international deal that would force developing countries like China and India to take carbon-reduction steps along with developed countries such as the United States.
People of good faith say the U.S. ought to pass a bill to set a standard for the rest of the world and the rest of the world will follow along. But if the rest of the world doesn't follow Uncle Sam, we soon become Uncle Sucker, Grassley said, citing job-loss fears if manufacturers move factories abroad to get unrestricted amounts of cheaper fossil fuels.
Ethan Siegal of The Washington Exchange, a private firm that tracks Congress and the White House for institutional investors, saw Congress eventually taking a less ambitious course -- one that many experts say will not come close to effectively addressing climate change problems.
He predicted a down-sized energy bill next year that could be a combination of tax credits for alternative energy sources, more offshore oil drilling and steps to promote nuclear energy.
If Congress fails to enact a climate change bill by December, as is widely expected, Chu said the United States can still show up in Copenhagen and point to climate control progress made this year.
Besides passage of a climate bill by the House of Representatives, Chu mentioned the $80 billion included in an economic stimulus law for investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy, along with new rules forcing car companies to build more fuel-efficient autos.
It's quite clear the United States is very serious about decreasing its carbon footprint, Chu said.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, editing by Anthony Boadle)