A top White House adviser yesterday pushed back against the idea of paring down Senate legislation on energy and global warming and frowned upon emerging talk among some moderates to limit legislative efforts to capping greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

“Our position is, let’s do it all,” said Carol Browner, President Obama’s senior aide on climate and energy issues. “Slicing and dicing isn’t going to work. It’s time to finally have comprehensive energy legislation in this country.”

That’s Greenwire (subs. req’d) reporting today on a panel discussion that included Browner.  She still has her (globally) warm sense of humor:

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) earlier this week confirmed he plans to bring up the energy and climate bill on the floor next spring after work is done on both health care and financial regulatory reform. Asked about that timing, Browner said she expects to see Senate action in March or April. “The good news is spring comes early in Washington, earlier and earlier with climate change,” she joked.

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I’ve been traveling, so I haven’t had time to dive into the idea floated by some, including Sen. Lugar’s office, of “combining power plant-only cap-and-trade legislation with building efficiency standards and stronger fuel efficiency requirements for the transportation sector.”  I doubt that will be the endgame, since the more one looks into the idea, the less sense it makes.

After all, Obama already announced he will raise new car fuel efficiency standards to 35.5 mpg by 2015, and I find it hard to believe Lugar or any of those who oppose an economy-wide cap are prepared to go significantly farther than that.  Strong building efficiency standards are great — that’s why Waxman and Markey put them in the House’s bipartisan climate and clean energy bill (see “Better buildings soon? Energy and climate bill would set national energy codes“).  They belong in any comprehensive legislation.  Funny how they aren’t in the Senate Energy Committee’s bill, though….

A power-plant only cap-and-trade is, of course, what George Bush campaigned on in 2000 and then abandoned shortly after taking office under the influence of Dick Cheney.  I think it loses more votes than it gets because right now the compromise involves everybody, and that’s a key reason the utility industry supported the House bill and continues to support action in the Senate.  If the entire burden of emissions reductions were placed on that one sector, I think many utilities will jump ship, and that undermines the whole political deal.

But Browner argued that U.S. industries would prefer a combined effort all at once.

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“If you only get a little piece of the problem, if we deal with some of our production issues, breaking our dependence on foreign oil, or if we do only a renewable electricity standard, then you’re not going to give industry the predictability and certainty they need to start making the large capital investments they’re eager to make,” Browner said.

Browner, a former EPA administrator during the Clinton administration, said she has been a regular visitor on Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Democrats and Republicans on the legislation. Based on those conversations, she said she has reason to think a final bill can overcome a threatened Senate filibuster and make it to Obama’s desk despite the looming midterm elections next November.

“What we’re seeing is, the conversation is not, ‘Well, if there is a bill,’” she said. “The conversation has become, ‘Well, a bill will have to do these things.’ Now that doesn’t mean you automatically get to 60. Sixty is always a tough number. But I, having worked on the Hill [as an aide to then Sen. Al Gore], having helped to pass legislation, having done so when I was at EPA, it’s a different tone. And I think that is cause for optimism. It won’t be easy. But I think there’s a pathway. I think there is a way to put together the components of what we want and meet the needs of enough senators to get a 60-vote margin.”

I remain optimistic that an economy wide bill will become law next year, as do folks who have far more Hill experience, including my colleague at CAP:

“There is a myth in Washington, perpetrated by politicians and journalists, that in an election year you don’t pass any kind of legislation,” said former Rep. Phil Sharp (D-Ind.), now the head of the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future. “The history is the opposite. I defy you to find a major piece of complex environmental legislation that did not pass except near the very tail-end of the session.”

Sharp cited the 1990 Clean Air Act and energy bills enacted during the Carter administration. “All of them came literally in the last hours of the session almost,” Sharp added. “I think that’s a myth we should just get rid of right now.”

Dan Weiss, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, questioned why so many are quick to rule out the bill’s passage in 2010.

“The obituary for this bill is going to be written repeatedly between now and when the president signs it next year,” Weiss said. “More time is always better than less time. But if you look at other pieces of complex legislation. We’re far ahead of where they were.”

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