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Kerry Goes Easy On Big Oil

Earlier today, John Kerry was at a green jobs conference here in Washington to talk up the still-not-public climate bill he's been crafting with Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. (Graham's still upset about the Dems' immigration push and may never come back to the talks, though yesterday Lieberman said they were prepared to move forward without him.) Interestingly, Kerry didn't really focus on the Gulf spill as a reason to push for big reforms to the energy sector. Instead, he sounded awfully conciliatory in places:

"People are going to try and scare you," Kerry told an audience of union members and environmentalists in Washington, D.C. "It doesn’t matter what we do in Washington today, the Republicans call it a tax, so I guarantee you that whatever we do, you are going to hear the word 'tax.'"

"There is no tax in this bill. There is the principle that the polluter pays. Oil and gas pollute. And the oil companies are prepared in this bill to pay a pollution charge directly to the government and that money goes back to you," Kerry added.

A lot of other members of Congress are ready to tear BP to shreds, but Kerry still sounds like he needs their cooperation in order to pass legislation. Indeed, he and Lieberman have said they want to keep the offshore drilling provisions in their climate bill, whatever those might be. (By the way, BP is one of three major oil companies that's reportedly ready to support the bill.)

Lately, there's been a lot of discussion among environmentalists who are unhappy with the business-friendly provisions in the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill (see here for my rundown). They've been arguing that the Gulf disaster is a perfect opportunity to smack the oil companies aside and draft a new, stronger carbon bill that doesn't cater to the industry's whims. Something akin to how financial regulation got stronger and stronger as it passed through the Senate, in part because Wall Street was so spectacularly unpopular—read my colleague Noam Scheiber's terrific piece on that process today. But that doesn't appear to be happening with the climate bill right now.