Sen. Lindsey Graham may be under fire from conservatives back home in South Carolina. But the Republican got a personal assurance from President Obama yesterday that the White House is supporting his efforts to craft a sweeping Senate energy and global warming bill.

“The president told me personally he was very open, that nuclear power would be part of the mix, that clean coal would be part of the mix, that he’s for offshore drilling in a responsible way,” Graham said today in describing his Oval Office meeting with Obama. “But we have to have a price on carbon, an emissions standard that’s real, that’s good for the environment and good for business. And I was very pleased.”

Graham’s ties to the White House are pivotal for sponsors of an energy and climate bill as they search for more Republicans willing to work on a key feature of their domestic and international agenda. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) yesterday said he has “definite Republican votes” for the bill, though he would not name names or give exact numbers

So E&E News PM (subs. req’d) reported last night. Again, those who think there is not going to be a bipartisan climate bill in the spring are not paying attention.

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And it is going to be an economy-wide bill as Sen. Lieberman (I-Conn.) explains later in the piece:

Graham described Obama’s message after a Capitol Hill briefing that included 10 other senators and members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a business and environmental lobbying group. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire briefly stopped for the meeting that entailed leading corporate CEOs urging lawmakers to pass a sweeping bill to give them certainty about future environmental regulations.

“This country is in desperate need of a comprehensive energy and climate strategy,” Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil Co., told reporters after the meeting. “And if we get that done, we can do this in a way that can increase American jobs, will increase our energy security, will improve our balance of trade, and will protect our environment.”

Graham said whether Obama can win more Senate Republicans depends on industry. “I think the message needs to come more from business people,” he said. “We need to get the business community more on board for acting now and more vocal about the consequences of inaction.”

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Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman are meeting tomorrow to discuss whether to produce an outline of their proposal during the two-week U.N. climate negotiations that start Monday in Copenhagen. But the three senators do not plan to release a full piece of legislation until early next year once they have won over additional co-sponsors.

When they do release their proposal, Lieberman insisted it would not venture into some of the alternative ideas that have recently gained traction on Capitol Hill, including a carbon tax or sector-specific limits only on power plants. “Personally, I don’t think there’s any chance of a carbon tax being this legislation,” Lieberman said.

Staff to Republican Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and George Voinovich of Ohio are researching the idea of greenhouse gas limits only for power plants, perhaps combined with other energy and environmental measures such as efficiency standards for buildings and stronger corporate average fuel economy standards for transportation.

But Lieberman said he remains focused on an economywide approach that covers major energy, transportation and manufacturing companies. “We are not” looking at the sector-specific approach, Lieberman said. “And I hope we don’t get to that because the most sensible way to start this is economywide.”