The 987-page bill, the product of more than seven months of negotiations and tweaked recently in response to the Gulf oil spill, includes new protections for offshore drilling and for the first time would set a price on carbon dioxide emissions produced by coal-fired power plants and other large polluters.
The bill also aims to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020 and by more than 80 percent by 2050. Both targets are measured against 2005 levels and match those set by a House bill approved last year.
"We can finally tell the world that America is ready to take back our role as the world's clean energy leader," Kerry (D-Mass.) said at a news conference, surrounded by environmentalists and leaders from an array of energy companies.
"This is a bill for energy independence after a devastating oil spill, a bill to hold polluters accountable, a bill for billions of dollars to create the next generation of jobs and a bill to end America's addiction to foreign oil," Kerry said, calling stakes for the legislation "sky-high."
Lieberman (I-Conn.) predicted the bill would pass, citing what he called a growing and unprecedented coalition of business, national security, faith and environmental leaders who are "energized" to work for it.
He and Kerry said that Senate colleagues have been surprised at the strong support from business, including oil companies, major utilities and the nuclear power industry.
The bill also is supported by most environmental groups. A coalition of 22 groups, including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society and the Environmental Defense Fund endorsed it jointly yesterday.
President Barack Obama added his support, saying the nation must work to end its dependence on fossil fuels.
"For too long, Washington has kicked this challenge to the next generation," he said.
Despite the lofty rhetoric, the measure faces a steep road in the Senate amid partisan disputes over the drilling provisions and other issues, including immigration reform.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who had been the bill's only Republican backer, withdrew his support last week, saying it is impossible to pass the legislation in the current political climate. Wednesday, Graham issued a statement praising the bill but casting doubt on its prospects.