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Sen. John Kerry, hoping to win over wavering senators, said he is pushing environmental reforms to create jobs and spark energy independence, with climate benefits along "for the ride."
In an interview with The Associated Press, the Massachusetts Democrat said legislation he's crafting with Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., will differ from a House-passed bill that embraces a so-called "cap and trade" approach to reduce pollution blamed for global warming.
"It will be a very different mix of a bill from where we were at the end of the House effort," Kerry said. "It will be simpler, and hopefully, capable of attracting support."
By pushing for alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar and nuclear power, the bill could create more than a million jobs while reducing pollution and cleaning up the air, Kerry said in the Thursday interview.
"It's primarily a jobs bill, and an energy independence bill and a pollution reduction-health-clean air bill," Kerry said. "Climate sort of follows. It's on for the ride."
Kerry and other Senate sponsors have avoided the phrase "cap and trade" whenever possible, but Kerry bristled at the notion that the new focus is an effort to re-brand an unpopular idea.
"This has nothing to do with branding. We are not trying to switch hit here," he said. "This is a different bill. It will have a different structure."
Kerry declined to reveal details, but said the measure aims to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollution-causing greenhouse gases by about 17 percent by 2020. The bill is likely to abandon an economy-wide approach to carbon pollution in favor a plan that applies different carbon controls to different sectors of the economy.
Kerry's push to jump-start the long-stalled climate bill comes as President Barack Obama renewed his support for comprehensive legislation. Obama and four Cabinet secretaries met with Kerry and other senators from both parties at the White House this week to try to move the climate bill forward.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama wants a comprehensive measure that includes a cap on carbon emissions.
Kerry contrasted the energy bill with health care legislation, which Democrats are trying to push through the Senate with no Republican support.
"Health care never, ever became bipartisan. We start bipartisan, and not bipartisan by one. There are three (GOP) senators who have publicly endorsed setting a price on carbon," Kerry said, referring to Graham and Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.
But Kerry still has to win over some skeptics in his own party, notably coal-state senators who fear that limits on coal emissions will wipe out coal jobs. About half the electricity produced in the United States comes from coal.
After the White House meeting, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he still had concerns. "Nothing on the table has my support at this time," he said.
Kerry said he, Graham and Lieberman want to be responsive to Rockefeller and other senators who have questions about the bill. Kerry has met with more than 50 senators in recent months to discuss the bill and address individual concerns.
"We've spent a lot of time working through coal state concerns, gas, oil, nuclear — all those different pieces of that puzzle," Kerry said. "My hope is that Sen. Rockefeller and others from those states are going to feel very pleased with what we're able to do."
The Senate bill is likely to include measures to help the coal industry develop technology to store carbon dioxide from coal-burning plants underground.
Even though the Senate legislation has yet to be formally proposed or reviewed by congressional budget officials, Kerry said there is still time to approve an energy bill this year. A detailed summary is expected within a week.
"Yes, I think we have time to take on one of the most significant issues before the country," he said. "We need energy independence. We need more jobs. And nothing will create more jobs than what we're going to be proposing. I'm confident in that."
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