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John Kerry says compromise climate bill coming

Contrary to what he called "conventional wisdom," the Massachusetts Democrat says a bipartisan climate change bill will emerge soon in the U.S. Senate.

Senator John Kerry said a bipartisan climate change bill would emerge soon in the U.S. Senate, contradicting what he called the "conventional wisdom" that the legislation was dead this election year.

Kerry is working closely with the Obama administration and a bipartisan group of senators on a comprehensive bill to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide pollution blamed for global warming.

"We're on a short track here in terms of piecing together legislation we intend to roll out," Kerry told a climate policy forum, without giving details of his proposals.

The Massachusetts Democrat and White House officials are among the most optimistic that a bill to tackle global warming can be produced, despite strong opposition among many lawmakers and as time runs out ahead of the November midterm elections.

Kerry admitted his upbeat outlook was "completely contrary to any conventional wisdom," and indicated he still had to convince some of his own Democrats to go along with a bill.

Senator John Kerry U.S. Senate

He also hinted no decision had been made on the core of a climate bill: the mechanism for bringing about declining emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

"Every mechanism that's out there is on the table," Kerry told reporters after his speech.

In a sign that Republican input is still possible, a senior senator from the party is looking at the possibility of dealing with climate change by imposing a carbon tax, something Republicans have traditionally ruled out.

Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, told Reuters she was "investigating and researching a net zero carbon tax" as well as other proposals.

He stressed that Murkowski, from a big oil-producing state, has not drafted a carbon tax bill, but so far it is the option "she likes the most."

Dillon said the idea would be to place a tax on carbon-intensive fuels and "do it as far upstream as possible"--meaning exploration and production stages--while giving all the revenues from the tax back to consumers.

Congress is struggling with how to raise the price of high-polluting carbon fuels such as oil and coal so that cleaner alternative power sources such as wind and solar will become more attractive to companies.

Carol Browner, President Barack Obama's top energy and climate adviser, told the same audience at the forum sponsored by the New Republic magazine "the work that is going on up on the Hill is moving at a nice speed."

Washington's ability to produce a domestic law mandating carbon reductions on industry will have a significant impact on whether negotiations on the international track will succeed.

The U.N.-sponsored global negotiations, last held in Copenhagen in December, have been slow-moving.

Todd Stern, the Obama administration's chief climate negotiator in those talks, said the United States remained committed to the U.N. process.

But he left open the possibility of another forum gaining favor if progress stalled at the U.N. level.

"There is a point at which this probably can't wait forever," Stern said at the conference.

Without progress, "things are going to develop so countries that are largely responsible for emissions around the world have the capacity to get together and make decisions and do things," he said.

Earlier on Tuesday in Bonn, Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. climate change secretariat, said it will be "very difficult" to strike a binding deal at the next annual meeting set for Mexico November 29 to December 10.

Uphill fight ahead of elections
Last June, the House of Representatives passed a cap-and-trade climate bill that aims to significantly cut carbon emissions over the next 40 years. Companies would need permits for every ton of pollution they send into the atmosphere and those permits would be traded on a market.

But legislation has stalled in the Senate, where the Democrats hold a majority but do not have the 60 seats they need to overcome Republican opposition. Nor are all Democratic Senators on board, especially with congressional elections approaching in November and Americans struggling with high unemployment and a slow economic recovery.

Many lawmakers fear voter backlash if they back an environmental bill that could raise energy prices.

Others have gotten more aggressive in questioning the quality of the science of climate change after it was revealed that the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had included predictions on Himalayan glacial melts that have since been declared too dire.

"The climate science has been cooked," Republican Senator James Inhofe said on Tuesday at a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency's budget.

He issued a report calling for the EPA to stop moving on greenhouse gas regulation until the questions were addressed.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the overall findings of the IPCC, including that humans were causing climate change, were sound.

Recent public opinion polls also show a diminishing interest in climate change. An Ipsos poll conducted in early December found that only 43 percent of those surveyed think human activity has caused a rise in Earth's temperature over the past century.

On Monday, Senator Max Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee with oversight over parts of the climate bill, told Reuters he did not sense any momentum for passage of legislation this year and gave no hint his panel would work on it any time soon.