WASHINGTON - Sens. Lindsey Graham, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman made a bipartisan pitch for climate change legislation Thursday in a letter to President Barack Obama before he attends a U.N. conference in Denmark.
The three senators released new details of their plan to fuse several global warming bills with measures to increase U.S. energy independence into a single comprehensive package.
"Support is building to simultaneously create jobs, protect our national security interests and improve our environment," the senators wrote to Obama.
They called for reductions in carbon emissions "in the range of 17 percent," a similar level to that urged by Obama and contained in a House measure.
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The senators' compromise would put a price on air pollution through a new cap-and-trade market in exchange for expanded offshore oil and gas exploration along with new nuclear power plants.
Obama praised the initiative, which the three senators haven't translated into a bill yet because they want several Senate committees to finish working on their measures.
"The president believes this is a positive development towards reaching a strong, unified and bipartisan agreement in the U.S. Senate," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
At a Capitol Hill news conference, reporters asked Graham why he is the only Senate Republican who has publicly supported cap-and-trade limits on carbon emissions.
"From a Republican point of view, I am for cleaner air," Graham said. "I am for cleaner water. And I believe we can make it good for business."
Graham said he's talking with other GOP senators he predicted will eventually back climate-change legislation, though he declined to name them.
Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who was his party's 2004 presidential nominee, warned that the Environmental Protection Agency is poised to implement tough new rules if lawmakers don't act.
As Obama prepares to attend the climate conference in Copenhagen next week, prominent Republicans have stepped up their opposition to steep reductions in gashouse pollutants.
For instance, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin described global warming as part of "natural, cyclical environmental trends" and accused some scientists of politicizing their research.
Scott Segal, a lawyer who represents power companies and manufacturers, said the senators' plan was "a definite step forward," but that it's not clear proponents of legislation on climate change will back new nuclear plants or more offshore drilling.
In fact, Adam Rivera, a spokesman for the Miami Beach-based Environmental Florida conservation group, criticized the senators' initiative, saying more drilling "means more emissions, and more emissions in a bill designed to reduce emissions is the very definition of a wrong approach."
Graham, however, said he won't support any climate change legislation that doesn't provide for expanded oil and gas drilling.
Joining in a statement supporting Graham Thursday were GOP state Sen. John Courson, retired Marine Gen. George Patrick, and business leader John Rainey. They praised Graham for supporting "energy independence."