By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Prospects for climate-change legislation in Congress improved on Sunday when a Republican senator broke ranks with his party to outline a compromise with a leading Democrat on the issue.
Republican Senator Lindsay Graham and Democratic Senator John Kerry wrote in an opinion piece in The New York Times that they believed they could pick up enough support to pass a wide-ranging bill to limit carbon emissions.
"We refuse to accept the argument that the United States cannot lead the world in addressing global climate change," Graham and Kerry wrote. "We are also convinced that we have found both a framework for climate legislation to pass Congress and the blueprint for a clean-energy future."
Graham is one of a few dozen fence-sitters whom Kerry and Democrat Barbara Boxer have been courting in order to amass the 60 votes needed for passage in the 100-member Senate.
Many lawmakers worry that the bill would hurt the struggling U.S. economy, raise energy costs, hurt coal-producing regions and weaken energy-intensive industries like steel manufacturing.
The Kerry-Boxer bill would reduce U.S. industry emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020, less than European Union countries have pledged.
Graham does not support the bill as written, a spokesman said.
Many details remain undecided, but the bill embraces central elements of legislation passed in June by the House of Representatives.
Both would require companies to get an annual permit for every ton of carbon pollution they put into the atmosphere. Utilities and factories that do not use all of their permits could sell them to companies that need more.
Graham and Kerry said Congress should set a minimum and maximum price on these permits to keep costs in check.
Congress also should make it easier to build new nuclear power plants and step up research on how to safely dispose of nuclear waste, they said -- a concern of other Republicans like Senator John McCain who have so far opposed the bill.
They suggested that Congress should consider trade sanctions against countries that do not limit pollution and work out a compromise to allow more oil and gas exploration within the United States and in its coastal waters.
They also warned that the Obama administration could impose much harsher regulations if Congress fails to act.
"Those who have been content to make the legislative process grind to a halt would later come running to Congress in a panic to secure the kinds of incentives and investments we can pass today," they wrote.
(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Bill Trott)