Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina pulled out of negotiations to forge a climate-change bill, protesting what he called a “cynical ploy” by Democrats to focus instead on immigration.
Graham’s move dimmed hopes for legislation that he was set to unveil tomorrow with Senators John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, after more than six months of work. Their proposal won support from utilities such as Exelon Corp., and people close to the matter said last week that oil companies including ConocoPhillips were prepared to sign on.
President Barack Obama pressed anew last week for an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy, and Democratic congressional leaders said legislation may advance this year if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can gain enough support. Graham decried the push as an attempt to win votes for Democrats in a critical election year.
“Moving forward on immigration -- in this hurried, panicked manner -- is nothing more than a cynical ploy,” Graham said in a letter yesterday to business, environmental, military and religious leaders.
“Unless their plan substantially changes this weekend, I will be unable to move forward on energy independence legislation at this time,” he wrote. “I will not allow our hard work to be rolled out in a manner that has no chance of success.”
“Cap-and-trade” legislation to limit carbon emissions and set up a market in the trading of pollution allowances stalled after passing the House last year. Kerry, Graham and Lieberman crafted a scaled-back measure that would initially provide carbon trading solely for utilities. The measure would also provide incentives for nuclear power and “clean-coal” technology.
Graham has been an “icon of cooperation” on both energy and immigration issues, White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers said today on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
“Even though immigration reform and energy reform are both crucial issues for the business community, there has been an enormous back-pressure against the kind of bipartisan cooperation that Senator Graham has engaged in, and that perhaps has made this a more complex situation, more difficult for him than it would otherwise be,” Summers said.
The Senate shouldn’t consider either climate change or immigration legislation next, Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, said today on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
“I’m not sure how we can justify bringing either one of them up right now,” he said, saying the chamber should focus instead on spending bills. “I’m not sure where you find the time to deal with these other major issues.”
An immigration law overhaul shouldn’t be done until U.S. borders are “sealed” against illegal aliens, he said.
Kerry called the postponement of the compromise climate-change legislation “regrettable” and repeated his call to move forward with a bill that puts a federal limit on greenhouse-gas emissions blamed for climate change.
“We have no choice but to act this year,” Kerry said in a statement. “The American people deserve better than for the Senate to defer this debate or settle for an energy-only bill that won’t get the job done.”
Environmentalists echoed Kerry’s call not to let the delay kill efforts to pass legislation. “This is a disappointment, not a defeat,” David Hawkins, director of climate programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based advocacy group, said in a statement.
Obama had told his Economic Advisory Board on April 17, “The financial regulatory reform will take several more weeks and then we’ll probably be transitioning next to look at on what can be done on the energy front.”
Carol Browner, Obama’s senior adviser on energy and the environment, said yesterday that the administration remains committed to getting a bill passed through the current Congress.
“We’re determined to see it happen this year, and we encourage the senators to continue their important work on behalf of the country and not walk away from the progress that’s already been made,” Browner said in a statement.
Calls to revamp federal immigration law grew as Arizona enacted a law requiring police to determine the immigration status of anyone an officer suspects is in the country without proper documentation.
Failure to revamp U.S. immigration policy will lead to “misguided” efforts such as the Arizona measure, Obama said April 23.
Graham’s Immigration Effort
The last try at revamping the law to create a guest worker program and provide a path to citizenship for some of those living in the U.S. illegally was in 2007. That was blocked amid opposition from Republicans and some Democrats. Graham, along with Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York, has worked to come up with a framework for legislation that can win bipartisan support.
Congress shouldn’t try to overhaul immigration laws this year, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said today on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I just don’t think this is the right time to take up this issue with the border security problems, the drug wars going on across the border, 10 percent unemployment,” McConnell said. “It just strikes me that our time would be better spent at the federal level on other issues.”
Graham warned last week that any effort to move immigration this year will fail badly because both parties first need to “lay the groundwork” politically with tough border-control approaches. He also said last week that he wasn’t clear how climate-change legislation would be affected if Obama chose to push for new immigration law first.
“Climate gets hot and it gets cold,” Graham said. “We go from the ice age to global warming on the bill. I don’t know where we are going to land.”
Reid, a Nevada Democrat facing a re-election campaign this year, said yesterday that immigration and energy legislation are “equally vital” to the country’s economic and national security and have been “ignored too long.”
“Energy could be next if it’s ready,” he said in a statement. “I have also said we will try to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”
Obama ran for president pledging to win passage of measures to overhaul health care and immigration law and to curb global warming. After the cap-and-trade bill narrowly passed the House, climate change was pushed to the background while lawmakers debated revamping the country’s health-care laws.
“My biggest concern is the clock running out in the legislation season,” Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview this month.
General Electric Co. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt and Duke Energy Corp. CEO Jim Rogers were among corporate supporters of limits on carbon pollution, saying clear rules are needed so companies know how to proceed with investments.
GE had planned to send a representative to a news conference tomorrow in Washington where the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman proposal was to be presented, GE spokesman Peter O’Toole said on April 23.
17% Carbon Reduction
The senators’ compromise, which would start taking effect in 2013, would require a 17 percent reduction in U.S. carbon emissions by 2020 and an 80 percent cut by 2050, according to people familiar with the legislation.
Its emissions-trading program for utility companies would later expand to manufacturers. The measure calls for $10 billion for “clean-coal” technology, and would provide incentives for nuclear power through expanded federal loan guarantees and liability protection for as many as 12 nuclear plants. Graham has called the nuclear provisions the “crown jewel” of the legislation.
The bill would expand U.S. offshore oil-and-gas drilling in line with a proposal from Obama and also give oil companies free pollution allowances that would expire by a certain date, after which allowances would have to be bought, the people said.
Ralph Izzo, CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., owner of New Jersey’s largest electric utility, said on April 23 that he anticipated backing the measure and was looking forward to the presentation of its full provisions that had been set for tomorrow.
“In the absence of information, people create all kinds of monsters,” he said.