Climate meeting in Washington

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Eric Niiler reports from Washington on tomorrow's White House meeting on climate and energy legislation. President Obama has invited key Democrat and Republican senators in hopes of breaking a logjam on Capitol Hill. The meeting follows the president's renewed call last week for new clean-energy legislation in response to the Gulf oil disaster.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH in Boston. President Obama is cranking up his efforts to get climate and energy legislation through Congress. The President has renewed his call for a clean energy bill in the wake of the Gulf oil crisis. Tomorrow he'll make his case with leading Democratic and Republican Senators at the White House. Eric Niiler reports from Washington.

ERIC NIILER: The House passed a comprehensive energy and climate bill a year ago, but it's been hung up in the Senate ever since. Last week, in his Oval Office address, President Obama used the Gulf spill as a reason to end the log jam and move away from fossil fuels like coal and oil.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now there are costs associated with this transition. And there are some who believe that we can't afford those costs right now. I say we can't afford not to change how we produce and use energy. So I'm happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party as long as they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels.

NIILER: Now the President has asked key Senators to the White House for a meeting to try to forge some kind of consensus. Among them is independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Lieberman is hopeful that some face time with President Obama will get wavering Democrats and maybe even a few Republicans to support some kind of energy bill.

SENATOR JOE LIEBERMAN: To me the meeting is very important because it represents him jumping into the pool.

NIILER: Lieberman is co-author of the most prominent Senate plan, the so-called Cap and Trade System. It would force utilities and other industries to buy pollution credits and lower carbon emissions over time. Other proposals call for a more limited Cap and Trade plan, or even dumping Cap and Trade altogether in favor of renewable energy goals for utilities. Lieberman says he and his colleagues have 50 of the 60 votes they need to pass something. California Democrat Barbara Boxer says support will grow if the President sends a clear message about both the costs of fossil fuels and the benefits of being a player in the new, green energy economy.

BARBARA BOXER: I think it's really possible given this horrible spill and given the fact that we have got to stop losing market share on clean energy to China, to Europe.

NIILER: But the Democratic caucus is fractured. So Boxer and other Democratic supporters will need at least a few Republicans. Ohio Republican George Voinovich won't be at the White House tomorrow, but he says he's concerned about new regulations that he believes could paralyze the U.S. economy unless other nations do the same.

SENATOR GEORGE VOINOVICH: We could shut everything down in this country and we'd still not dent the problem because in China, they're putting two coal fire plants online a week. As a result of that we have to see how we fit into the big picture.

NIILER: Like many Midwestern states, Ohio burns coal for most of its power. Its economy is still based on energy intensive heavy industries and more than 10% of its workers are jobless. Voinovich says he's looking for an alternative. He wants a bill that would invest more in technology to capture carbon emissions from coal plants and build more nuclear power stations. Some Democrats also support a more modest bill that would ditch Cap and Trade, at least for now. Here's North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan.

SENATOR BYRON DORGAN: We have not been able to bring the energy bill up now for one full year because there are those who say that it's got to be a broader bill, a climate change bill combined with energy. Why not do what you can rather than do nothing before the end of this year?

NIILER: The President indicated in his speech last week that he was open to a pragmatic approach. And this week, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel suggested that Cap and Trade be limited to utilities. But even that more limited plan still faces hurdles from coal state Democrats like West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller. Rockefeller will be at the White House tomorrow. He says he'll listen to the President, but that Mr. Obama's influence only goes so far.

SENATOR JAY ROCKEFELLER: I'm going to be with him on Wednesday. He'll probably say more about that then. But a climate change isn't something where the long arm of the majority leader of the White House or the Dalai Lama is going to change your view.

NIILER: Many Senators say the time is growing short to pass any kind of climate or energy legislation. With both August recess and mid-term elections looming, tomorrow's meeting may be time for a breakthrough or a breakdown. For The World, I'm Eric Niiler.