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WASHINGTON, Feb 22 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Max Baucus, whose committee oversees aspects of climate control legislation, said on Monday there did not appear to be momentum yet for passing a bill.
"If you actually read the tea leaves...it looks like it's not getting a head of steam," Baucus told Reuters during a short interview.
Climate legislation aimed at controlling greenhouse gas emissions had been a top priority of the Obama administration but like his efforts to reform the expensive health care system, it has stalled in Congress.
Countries around the world are waiting to see what the Unites States will do on battling global warming but there is growing doubt there are enough votes in Congress to get pass the legislation in this congressional elections year.
As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus has a big say in trade aspects of a climate control bill.
His committee likely would have to sign off on any provisions that impose tariffs or other charges on goods from countries that do not have strict climate control provisions and thus could get a competitive advantage over U.S. products.
The Finance Committee also would review how pollution permits might be distributed to companies under a cap and trade system that limits industry's carbon dioxide emissions and lets them trade those permits with other companies.
Asked whether his committee would hold hearings on climate legislation this year and produce legislation, Baucus said: "We should move. We need to move. It's a major issue. But we only have so much time this year."
The Montana Democrat noted that his committee has a large agenda this year with legislation to reform healthcare and create jobs "and other issues."
Last year, Baucus said he hoped his committee could handle a climate change bill early into 2010, but he did not repeat that goal on Monday.
Baucus made clear if a climate bill were to move through the Senate he believed it should be debated in formal hearings and work sessions of the Finance Committee. "I think hearings and markups are very important," he said.
Democratic Senator John Kerry has been leading efforts in the Senate to produce a compromise climate change bill. He is working closely with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and independent Senator Joseph Lieberman.
Besides cap and trade, they reportedly are looking at alternative mechanisms for reducing U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, including a carbon tax and a cap on emissions but without the trading component. (Editing by David Storey)