Energy — the Next Big Reform

By Gorman Gorman

Jul 29, 2009 5:57pm

ABC News' Elizabeth Gorman and Devin Dwyer report:

Former presidential contender Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, warned today that the prolonged health care debate may threaten getting a vote on the energy bill before an upcoming climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Just months before the largest international global warming summit convenes, legislators in the United States are still debating the size and scope of energy reform.

“Unless we significantly ramp up our efforts, China’s green energy industry will . . . 'clean our clock,'" Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said today at the National Press Club, referring to China's new clean air investments.

“We are going to pass a bill I hope; we are going to propose a bill that is the foundation of economic transformation . . . that’s a clean-energy jobs bill that reduces pollution and helps America become energy independent. And in doing so, we’re also going to wind up taking care of climate issues,” he said.

Kerry, who from his perch as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has been taking a lead role in pushing the Senate climate bill through the chamber.   Working with Energy Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Kerry said he hopes to put the bill before Congress in the fall prior to the Copenhagen summit deadline, "to lead by example."  An American “trained energy corps” will work as an “engine” to move America from its recession toward recovery, according to Kerry.

“Now we may or may not because of the health care debate be able to get it squeezed in before then. I can’t tell you that today,” he said.  “As long as we’re on track,” he added.

“This is the mother of all markets. And if we commit with the certainty of pricing carbon, to move in that direction, you’re going to see more product come on the line, more technologies that become cheaper,” Kerry said in support of the cap-and-trade policy, narrowly passed by the House last month.

Although Kerry has said it's a good bill that needs some tweaking, it doesn't have the support of the GOP. Today in a statement, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Ten) said that the House bill is a “huge and unnecessary burden on the economy, a $100 billion a year job-killing energy tax that will create a new utility bill for every American family.”

The bill emphasizes renewable energy, and mandates that 15 percent of all energy comes from renewable sources.

Alexander called renewable sources like wind power unrealistic and “narrowly defined,” and he called the House bill a “national windmill policy.”

“Renewable energy is intriguing and useful. But today it’s only 4 percent of our electricity, and it has many challenges,” he said.

Senate Republicans plan to unveil their version of an energy reform bill in the fall that will not include a cap-and-trade system. Instead of putting a price on carbon, the GOP plans to focus on nuclear energy as an under-utilized resource that can help achieve energy independence.

Sen. Alexander told ABC News he’s got bipartisan support for it. “I’ve had two Democratic senators just in the past two weeks ask to come see me about our nuclear power plan,” he said – though he didn’t name names.

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