WASHINGTON - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he wants to take up a bill to tackle global warming by the end of the summer.
The Nevada Democrat told The Associated Press in an interview late Thursday that the Senate in the next few weeks will move to pass an energy bill focusing on several of President Barack Obama's priorities, but then " hopefully late this summer do the global warming part of it."
There is widespread agreement that the climate change issue must be addressed. But there remains sharp disagreement on just how to do it.
Many Republicans argue that the Democrats' plan to cap the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming may be too expensive and produce higher energy costs. Democratic congressional leaders maintain that costs can be contained and that failure to act soon could have even more severe economic consequences.
Reid says he is convinced that many senators want to move on the issue this year.
"We have to take a whack at it," he said.
Reid, who is up for re-election next year, has assumed a high profile on the need to promote "clean energy" sources such as wind, solar and biomass that do not produce carbon dioxide, the predominant greenhouse gas. These are also energy projects popular in Reid's home state, where several major solar projects are under way or planned.
Next week, Reid will participate in a "clean energy" forum being convened by the Center for American Progress. Others participating will include former President Bill Clinton, possibly former Vice President Al Gore,and senior Obama administration officials.
Reid earlier this week said that he expected Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, to produce an energy package within two weeks that will be ready for floor action. Among other things, Bingaman's bill would require utilities to produce 4 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2011, increasing to 20 percent over the following decade, according to a draft of the legislation.
Reid said he favors a 20 percent renewable standard for utilities, but added, "we'll get by with what we can."
Many states already have requirements for utilities to use renewable energy, but attempts in Congress to establish a national requirement have fallen short repeatedly because of regional divisions. Lawmakers from the Southeast particularly have argued that utilities in their area would be hard pressed to meet a federal requirement because they lack wind or solar energy resources.
Reid said he also favors some additional tax incentives aimed at spurring energy efficiency, especially for construction of more energy efficient buildings.
"We've got to give people incentives to build better buildings and also do something about the buildings that are there right now," said Reid.
But Reid said he doesn't expect the Senate to tackle the issue of offshore oil drilling again.
While Congress last fall ended a drilling moratorium that covered 85 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, Reid said he's convinced that Obama's Interior Department will protect those areas where drilling shouldn't be allowed.
"I don't think we need to do anything legislatively," he said.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently scrapped a Bush administration blueprint for offshore energy development through 2015 and said he was developing a new plan, keeping in mind that some areas are not suitable for drilling and putting greater emphasis on developing wind and wave energy projects offshore.