By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senators backing a bi-partisan bill that would make big utilities begin embracing renewable electricity believe they can get enough votes to pass it without having to add oil or nuclear incentives to the measure, a Congressional aide said on Friday.
Democrat Jeff Bingaman, the chair of the Senate's energy committee, and Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican, introduced the bill this week that includes a Renewable Electricity Standard, or RES.
The RES is backed by environmentalists and other groups as a consolation prize after the failure by the Senate to pass a more comprehensive climate bill, one of the key priorities of the Obama Administration. The law would help reduce greenhouse gases by cutting back on fossil fuel consumption.
The bill, which is similar to an RES that passed easily in Bingaman's committee last year, would require big utilities to generate 15 percent renewable power such as solar, wind, geothermal, and some hydroelectric, by 2021.
Since the senators introduced the new bill, two more senators have climbed on board as co-sponsors, bringing the total to 25. It has four Republican co-sponsors, including Charles Grassley.
The bill would need 60 votes to pass in the 100-member Senate, but the aide cautioned against counting co-sponsors.
"Many other senators are ready to vote for the bill but they are not ready to co-sponsor it," the aide told Reuters, adding that some senators do not want to add their names to it before the November 2 congressional elections.
Bingaman told the Reuters Washington Summit this week he believes the bill will be taken up in a so-called lame duck session after the elections.
He also told the Summit he does not see a big climate bill reaching the Senate floor in the remainder of President Barack Obama's first term, undermining the administration's hopes of taking a lead role at the global climate talks.
Because the RES bill may be the only chance of getting energy legislation through the Senate this year, many senators who are not co-sponsors are attempting to add items to it that would get them support at home.
Some senators see a chance to boost coal power and want electricity from plants where companies bury carbon emissions in the ground to be counted as a renewable power. Others want nuclear power to count.
KEEPING IT CLEAN
"No. There will not be any horse trading," the congressional aide said.
"The intention of this bill is to buck up renewable power. Nuclear may be clean power, but it's not renewable," the aide said.
Bingaman and Brownback want the RES bill to stand alone and not carry such items. "They intend to keep it clean."
Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana has said she would vote for the bill if it contained oil incentives, including ending the drilling moratorium the federal government put in place after the BP Plc crude spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
But Bingaman and Brownback were not counting on her vote anyway because she had not given support to an RES in the past, the aide said.
Others senators might vote for an RES if it included a measure to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. But Obama administration officials have said the president would veto that.
A more likely scenario would be for the bill to be twinned with other legislation, such as a one that would give tax incentives to ethanol producers. The incentives are set to expire at the end of the year.
Such a deal would first have to be worked out in the Senate finance committee.
(Editing by Russell Blinch and Marguerita Choy)