Energy Bill: Can Senators Reach Agreement?

Even as the sense of urgency to address the energy issue grows, momentum on the energy and climate bill is still stalled. The idea of a cap on carbon has become a central point of contention between Democrats and Republicans.

The death of Sen. Robert Byrd, who, despite hailing from coal-producing West Virginia, became a proponent of fostering clean energy and passing a comprehensive bill, has also cast doubt on whether there will be enough Democratic votes to pass a partisan bill.

VIDEO: President Obama stresses need for clean energy
Obama Stresses Need for Clean Energy

Spencer Abraham, former energy secretary under President George W. Bush and a senator from Michigan for six years, said the current divisions are consistent with the history of energy politics.

A similar outcry for energy reform erupted in 2003, when a power outage caused a massive blackout in the northeastern U.S. and parts of Canada, becoming, at the time, the second most widespread blackout in world history. But lawmakers still couldn't come together on energy legislation and even the "Energy Policy Act" that passed two years later was considerably watered down, said Abraham, whose new book "Lights Out!: Ten Myths about (And Real Solutions to) America's Energy Crisis" will be released next week.

"It's not going to be easy because even with the oil spill and the pressure that's created, it reminds me a lot of 2003 where even though there's desire to do something, there's still very sharp divisions about what that something ought to be," Abraham told ABC News.

President Obama, who has been mostly vague on specifically what he wants to see in a Senate energy bill, told Senators in a bipartisan meeting today that any energy bill should put a price on carbon pollution.

"When companies pollute, they should be responsible for the costs to the environment and their contribution to climate change," the White House said in a statement.

That, Republicans say, is not going to happen.

"A cap and trade proposal, a national energy tax will not sell in this country at this time," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said after the meeting today.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, urged the administration to "carefully weigh the costs of action versus inaction to avoid unintended consequences that cost us jobs."

"While there is consensus among us on energy, on the complex and difficult question of curbing greenhouse gas emissions, there is no consensus at this time," said Snowe, who has written several bipartisan proposals on energy and climate and is proposing to implement a carbon pricing program focused only on the power sector.

Democrats, however, are unwilling to back down from the issue. Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, whose proposed bill with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, revolves around "cap and trade," said today he's willing to strike a compromise with Republicans but that taking a carbon emission cap off of the table was not an option.

Even as the urgency from the BP oil spill continues to dominate discussions, lawmakers have yet to figure out how they can find middle ground.

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