Saying it's time to "take a whack" at climate change, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he plans to push for Senate action on global warming by the end of summer.
The Nevada Democrat in an interview with The Associated Press said the Senate will take up energy legislation in a couple of weeks "and then later this year, hopefully late this summer do the global warming part of it."
Climate legislation will be among the most complex and contentious issues facing Congress.
While there is widespread agreement among both Democrats and Republicans — as well as across the business community — that global warming must be addressed, there remains a sharp divide over the details of a climate package and how best to limit the cost.
Nevertheless, Reid said he is convinced many senators want to move on the issue this year, ahead of international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.
"We have to take a whack at it," Reid said in a telephone interview late Thursday. He said failure to act "would be neglectful."
Along with climate, Reid, who is up for re-election next year, has assumed a high profile on the need to promote "clean energy" 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 said the energy legislation expected to be taken up in the coming weeks will be limited largely to promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency — priorities of the Obama White House.
It is expected to say nothing about offshore oil development, or address the growing debate over whether the federal government should wield greater power in locating high-voltage transmission lines — an area of conflict between Washington and the states.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is crafting a national requirement for utilities to use renewable energy to generate electricity — at least 4 percent within two years, rising to a minimum of 20 percent over the following decade.
Reid said he favors a 20 percent renewable standard for utilities, but added, "We'll get by with what we can."
'Give people tax incentives'
Many states already have requirements for utilities to use renewable energy, but attempts in Congress to establish a national mandate 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 standard 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.