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Dems prepared to scale back energy bill to get GOP support

WASHINGTON - The authors of sweeping energy legislation that is stalled in the Senate said yesterday they were prepared to scale back their bill to get GOP support. They swiftly appeared to win a convert as a key moderate Republican said she might support a more targeted approach.

Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman made their comments after meeting at the White House with fellow senators and President Barack Obama, who is pushing for action in the wake of the Gulf oil spill.

"We are prepared to scale back the reach of our legislation in order to try to find that place of compromise," Kerry (D-Mass.) said after the meeting in which Obama urged senators to find common ground.

The bill by Kerry and Lieberman (I-Conn.) would tax carbon dioxide emissions produced by coal-fired power plants and other large polluters as a way to reduce pollution blamed for global warming. The legislation has been panned by many Republicans as a "national energy tax."

A more modest approach would limit the carbon tax to the electricity sector, something Kerry said yesterday was under consideration. The idea appeared to win a critical Republican endorsement from Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe after she attended yesterday's White House meeting.

"I believe that one possibility is to more narrowly target a carbon pricing program through a uniform nationwide system solely on the power sector," Snowe said in a statement.

The chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is quietly drafting a bill that would cap greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Some White House officials have begun to speak favorably about such a "utility-only" approach, which could be more attractive to Republicans.

Supporters of the bill must contend with dwindling time on the legislative calendar and the difficulty of passing comprehensive climate change legislation in an election year.

Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, said there was discussion about an emissions cap just on stationary sources, which would primarily mean power plants and refineries.

"Based on the discussion today I think we feel good about opportunities to come together and find some common ground to pass legislation this year," Zichal told viewers in a forum on the White House website.

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