Senate Democrats put off energy bill

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WASHINGTON -- Senate Democratic leaders shelved plans for major energy and climate legislation Thursday, a bow to political reality that ended their hopes for action this year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, boost alternative energy production and wean the nation from carbon fuels.

Majority Leader Harry Reid -- who just last week had promised to bring a sweeping energy bill with an emissions cap to the Senate floor by the August recess -- said he will instead offer a scaled-back bill focused largely on responding to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The new bill will also include money for home energy-efficiency retrofits, encouraging natural-gas powered vehicles and land and water conservation, said Mr. Reid, D-Nev.

It will drop the two most aggressive and controversial provisions of the energy bill the House passed last year: a market-based cap on greenhouse gas emissions and nationwide renewable electricity generation mandates.

Some environmentalists and clean-energy activists held out hope that a comprehensive bill could pass in the lame-duck session after the election, though most analysts doubt the possibility.

Mr. Reid's decision reflects "the realities of the Senate calendar and the mood of Congress before the election," said Joshua Freed, who directs the clean-energy program for the Democratic think tank Third Way. "We still have opportunities after the election," he said.

Still, the scaled-back bill falls far short of the ambition of several bipartisan or Republican energy proposals.

Enacting a broad energy-climate bill had always been problematic, especially during a period of economic pain, since it would almost certainly impose higher energy prices and potentially penalize coal-producing and industrial states.

No Republicans signed onto the leading climate proposal, despite lobbying from environmental groups and some industry officials, who won key concessions in early drafts of the bill.

Mr. Reid blamed the GOP for the impasse, even though he and the White House were unable to persuade several energy- and manufacturing-state Democrats to endorse it.

In a news conference with White House energy czar Carol Browner and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Mr. Reid said, "This is not the only energy legislation we're going to do. This is what we can do now."

"Obviously, everyone is disappointed that we do not yet have an agreement on comprehensive legislation," Ms. Browner conceded.


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