Obama May Back Down on Carbon-Regulation Deadline to Court Republicans

How much is President Obama willing to compromise with Republicans in order to produce an energy bill this month? A GOP senator present at Obama's Cabinet Room meeting to discuss energy on Tuesday said that Obama appeared prepared to postpone one of his most serious threats to the country's top emitters of greenhouse gases in order to bring a handful of Republicans on board.

According to an aide, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of seven Republicans who attended the meeting, said that after several senators explained their concerns about the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to begin regulating top emitters in January, Obama appeared to concede that the deadline could be flexible. "Well, we may have to push EPA back a little bit," he told the group, according to Murkowski, suggesting that the president may be willing to appease key Republicans in return for their votes on the climate bill. (Another senator, who asked not to be identified, confirmed the exchange.)

The Supreme Court gave EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions in 2007. Until now, that authority has been the administration's most effective tool in pushing Republicans to compromise on a comprehensive climate and energy bill this year.

A White House official speaking under the usual rules of anonymity confirms that the group discussed the EPA regulations, but says that Obama's willingness to back down on the EPA deadline is strictly conditional on the Senate finding another way to curtail growing greenhouse-gas emissions in an energy bill. A White House statement after the meeting also said Obama used the occasion to push for a price on carbon emissions as the only way to confront climate change. The Senate could remove greenhouse-gas-regulating authority from the EPA on its own before January, although last month, a Murkowski-led resolution gauging interest in such action failed with 47 votes.

Finding consensus on the issue remains a tall order. As Democrats struggle to collect 60 votes, it appears unlikely they'll be able to include any climate provisions in an energy bill that top leaders have expessed realistic interest in passing this month. Yet inserting such provisions in the energy bill may be the only way to get them passed; Republicans maintain that any attempt to crack down on emitters would be too costly and would likely oppose a separate bill doing just that.