Senate Democrats said on Thursday they would wait until the fall to take up climate-change legislation, setting the stage for a pitched battle in the weeks before congressional elections.
The delay would give Democrats a small window to advance the complex legislation amid intense political pressure in the weeks before the November elections.
"We will fight that out in September," said a Democratic senator who did not wish to be quoted by name. "It will be tough to win."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he plans to bring up a narrower energy bill next week that would revamp offshore oil drilling rules in the wake of the BP oil spill.
Some Democrats hoped to attach climate legislation to that bill with the hope of attracting Republican support.
But Reid said he could not get any Republicans to back a comprehensive energy bill that would include climate provisions like caps on carbon emissions or mandates for power companies to generate more alternative energy.
"Unfortunately at this time we don't have a single Republican on board," he told reporters.
Democrats need at least some Republican support to advance legislation in the Senate since they control 59 seats, one short of the 60 needed to advance legislation in the chamber.
The scaled-back energy bill, which Democrats hope to pass before leaving town for the August recess, would promote natural-gas vehicles in a bid to cut oil imports. It also would promote energy-efficient houses and businesses, Reid said.
Several Democrats said they thought the bill had enough support to pass the Senate--including support from Senator Ben Nelson, who frequently votes against his own party.
President Barack Obama has made action on climate change a priority and the House of Representatives approved a wide-ranging bill last year. But lawmakers and environmentalists are increasingly doubtful a comprehensive bill can pass the Senate this year. If Republicans make gains in the elections, the effort could be stalled for some time.
Utility stocks in the Dow Jones Utility Average were up 1.7 percent in afternoon trading, slightly lagging the broader market.
'Keep pounding away'
Congressional inaction would cast a pall on global talks that have lost momentum after December's summit in Copenhagen.
U.S. scientists have said that this year has been the hottest on record across the world.
China, which led a bloc of developing-world countries opposed to mandatory carbon limits, might impose more pollution controls on its economy than the United States. China, the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter, plans to launch a carbon trading market during the next five years to boost energy efficiency, according to the China Daily newspaper.
Obama has pushed the Environmental Protection Agency to take unilateral action if Congress fails to pass a bill. The EPA has begun issuing rules to cut emissions from cars and requiring power plants to have permits to emit carbon dioxide.
Democratic Senator John Kerry and independent Senator Joe Lieberman have crafted a bill that would impose carbon caps on utilities. Previous legislation also would have put caps on emissions from manufacturers and transportation.
Some power companies, like Duke Energy, want a climate bill so they can move ahead with billions of dollars in investments in new low-carbon power plants.
Lieberman said the Senate could take up their bill in September.
"I think there's going to be a lot of interest in doing something broader when it comes to energy independence than just oil spill," he said.
Kerry was upbeat that a climate bill with carbon caps would eventually pass.
"This is not going to die, absolutely rest assured this is not going away," Kerry told visitors to Congress.
"As long as I am in the Senate and I've got another four years...we are going to keep pounding away on this."
He said he met earlier on Thursday with one Republican, who has "indicated willingness" to work toward greater coalition in the Senate for a larger climate change bill.