Senators Rally Across Party Lines to Fight Climate Change

As President Obama heads to Copenhagen this week to convince world leaders of the United States' commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, he's getting help from an unexpected quarter.

In the Senate, where partisan feuding engulfs Obama's health care bill, an unusual group of lawmakers is working across party lines on a compromise bill that would boost domestic energy production while reducing pollution that causes global warming.

Described by participants as "tripartisan," the effort unites Sens. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat; Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent; and Lindsey Graham, an outspoken South Carolina Republican.

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The three are touting their alliance as proof that Congress is prepared to approve significant reductions in carbon emissions. Suspicions about U.S. intentions surfaced Tuesday at the United Nations global climate conference in Copenhagen, as China's representatives accused their U.S. counterparts and other developed nations of not going far enough to help poor nations.

"Developed countries have the obligation to provide financial support," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.

Kerry has a pointed message of his own for the Chinese in a speech he plans to deliver in Copenhagen today after an all-night flight from Washington.

"Some of my colleagues in Washington remain — like some leaders elsewhere — reluctant to grapple with a climate crisis mostly measured in future dangers and parts per million, when they're confronted every day with the present pain of hard-working people in a tough economic time," Kerry says, in remarks prepared for delivery.

"To pass a bill, we must be able to assure a senator from Ohio that steelworkers in his state won't lose their jobs to India and China because those countries are not participating in a way that is measureable, reportable and verifiable," he adds.

Obama has offered a 17% reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The House approved the same target in June, with just eight GOP votes and 44 Democrats opposed.

On Tuesday in Copenhagen, former vice president Al Gore— a Democrat who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change — called on Congress to approve a climate change bill by April 22, the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day.

Kerry and his allies are convinced a deal is possible.

"We have a moment of opportunity," Lieberman says.

Graham has come under fire from conservatives who, he says, suspect "that somehow I've bought into Al Gore science," but says there are members of his party ready to back a compromise. "Most Republicans don't feel comfortable with the idea that our party stands for unlimited carbon pollution perpetually," Graham says.

The trio's strategy: Combining legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions — a favorite cause of Democrats — with measures that would beef up domestic energy production and attract GOP votes.

That would include expanding offshore oil and gas drilling, which is opposed as a threat to beaches by groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council. It would also jump-start the U.S. nuclear industry, which has not been permitted to build a new plant since the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island plant in central Pennsylvania.

"American consumers and taxpayers need to understand we're not going to unilaterally disarm," Graham says.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., traveled to Copenhagen to put negotiators on notice that they will oppose the carbon caps now under discussion. Kerry, Lieberman and Graham hope their work sends a different signal.

"We will get a climate bill because people here understand that the problem of climate change is growing more severe every day," Lieberman says. "The only real question is when."