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Senate freshmen Dems call for carbon cap

Freshmen Senate Democrats are pushing legislation that prices industrial greenhouse gas emissions as part of a broader package of energy and climate initiatives.

All 12 in the current freshmen Democratic class - in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Friday - say a price on carbon emissions is needed in order to provide market certainty and keep pace with major developing countries like China and India.

Their call for a "polluter pays" approach to climate change echoes that of Democratic leaders looking to strike a deal on a first-time carbon-pricing program focusing on electric utilities.

Environmental groups and electric utility companies have been meeting to try to reach a consensus that could be used by Senate Democratic leaders as a way to attract centrists in both parties.

The Senate freshmen do not specify the scope of a carbon cap but they do address concerns that have been raised by manufacturers and other major industrial electricity consumers about a utility-focused plan raising their production costs and sending jobs overseas.

They seek legislation that offers tax incentives and other financial aid "to help American manufacturers create jobs, cut their energy consumption, retool for a clean energy economy and remain competitive in the global market." This also includes job training programs and recognizing the role of rural and agricultural communities.

Perhaps reflecting the regional diversity of the 12 senators, their letter to Reid is light on specifics and full of general goals that legislation should include.

This includes a federal mandate that "results in a meaningful increase in renewable energy production," along with incentives for other types of "clean energy technologies." Republicans and some Democrats want a federal renewable electricity production mandate to include existing and future nuclear production and cleaner uses of coal.

They also seek "a clear target" for reducing foreign oil dependence that could be achieved through investments in electric vehicles, alternative transportation fuels and expanded rail transportation.

"Recent tragedies in the Gulf and West Virginia have highlighted that we pay a heavy price for our dependence on fossil fuels," the 12 Democrats wrote. "While fossil fuels are and will continue to be an important part of our economy, we believe the transition to a clean energy economy - one that includes an all-of-the-above approach - is an economic, national security and environmental priority."

The 12 Senate Democrats on the letter are Mark Udall (Colo.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Roland Burris (Ill.), Ted Kaufman (Del.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Mark Warner (Va.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Al Franken (Minn.) and Kay Hagen (N.C.).

Many of them reside on key panels that have jurisdiction over climate and energy policy or otherwise have been involved in the efforts so far to draft a strategy Reid wants on the floor later this month. While they represent a fairly diverse caucus, perhaps only Begich has been considered a possible swing vote in the overall debate.