Obama's climate change plans attacked from all sides

Massachusetts election defeat and Republican plan to block Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon threaten to leave the president's climate change strategy in tatters

The chances of the US passing climate change legislation this year appeared highly unlikely this morning, after Democrats lost their filibuster-proof Senate majority and a rejuvenated Republican party stepped up efforts to block carbon legislation.

The election of Republican senator Scott Brown to the late Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts seat stoked speculation that the administration would now delay the vote on the proposed Boxer-Kerry cap-and-trade bill until after the mid-term elections in the autumn.

A number of Democrat senators have hinted they would now rather see a less ambitious energy bill, that retains some of the legislation's proposed reforms but ditches the controversial plan for a national carbon cap-and-trade scheme.

Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who had previously signalled opposition to the bill, told reporters that he expected the party's leadership to now delay the climate change bill and instead pursue an energy bill. "I think it is more likely for us to turn to something that is bipartisan and will address the country's energy interest and begin to address specific policies on climate change," he said.

However, other senior Democrats insist on continuing to push forward with the climate change bill, although they acknowledge that further compromises will be required to secure the support of both Republicans and moderate Democrats.

Much now rests on the negotiations between Democrat senator John Kerry, Republican Lindsey Graham and independent Joe Lieberman to develop a new draft bill capable of securing bipartisan support.

The bill is expected in the next few weeks and is likely to retain the cap-and-trade scheme, but increase support for nuclear energy and offshore oil and gas drilling.

Kerry said yesterday that bipartisan support for the bill could yet be secured. "The political atmosphere doesn't reduce the urgency of dealing with pollution and energy, and the surest way to increase the anger at Washington is to duck the issues that matter in peoples' lives," he said. "There's overwhelming public support and this can be a bipartisan issue."

It was also noted that while the newly elected Brown ran an arch-Conservative campaign and has in the past positioned himself as a climate-change sceptic, he did vote in favour of the east coast regional greenhouse gas initiative (RGGI) cap-and-trade scheme when serving as a Massachusetts state senator in 2008.

The blow to the Boxer-Kerry bill came as the administration's fallback option of regulating carbon emissions through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received a further blow when the Republican leading opposition to the move, Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski, appeared to secure a Democratic counterpart to support her attempt to block EPA carbon regulation.

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