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It’s crunch time for the climate bill in the Senate. As Congress returns from recess, the Senate trio crafting a compromise global warming bill are under pressure to gain the traction needed for floor action this year.

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) plan to unveil their long-awaited energy and climate bill the week of April 19. Earth Day is April 22.

From there, they have just weeks to build momentum and show Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that it has a strong chance of surpassing 60 votes, observers say.

“Reid can make the go or no-go decision no later than mid-May in practical terms,” said Kevin Book, an analyst with the consulting firm ClearView Energy Partners. 

The Senate faces other election-year priorities – such as Wall Street reform – and will be consumed with replacing retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who announced Friday that he’s stepping down.

Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle said Reid wants energy and climate on the 2010 agenda. “Senator Reid is still hoping that the Senate will be able to take up bipartisan, comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this year,” she said.

Book doesn’t believe that Reid needs a guarantee of more than 60 votes to put the bill on the floor, but thinks the majority leader will need evidence of strong prospects. “He needs to see a comfort zone to know that it is worth the time,” Book said.

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean agrees that Kerry, Graham and Lieberman must show quickly that they have the right recipe, given the time the Senate will spend on the Supreme Court replacement and other issues.

“In order to get a climate bill through the Senate, they would have to be ready to … get that plane off the legislative runway pretty quickly, and it doesn’t look like they are ready at the moment,” said Bonjean, a former aide to GOP leadership in both chambers.

“They need to act fast and try to gain consensus almost immediately upon return, because the Supreme Court vacancy will slow momentum for other legislation this spring and summer,” he added.

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman – christened “KGL” in energy circles – hope to win over centrist Democrats and some Republicans, whose views on cap-and-trade (or any emissions limits) generally range from skepticism to strong opposition.

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