updated 10/2/2007 9:42:30 PM ET 2007-10-03T01:42:30

Three competing Senate proposals calling for limits on greenhouse gases would have roughly identical success in curbing global warming, but only if other nations also significantly cut heat-trapping emissions, a government analysis says.

The Environmental Protection Agency examined the long-term impact of three climate change bills being considered in the Senate, each of which would cap carbon dioxide emissions from cars, industry and power plants with an goal of reducing greenhouse gas releases by 60 to 65 percent by mid-century.

By the end of the century, all three bills would have reduced the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by roughly the same amount — about 23 to 25 parts per million, said the EPA report, which was sent Tuesday to Capitol Hill.

"The three bills achieve similar levels of cumulative (greenhouse gas) emissions abatement," the EPA wrote in letters to Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., co-sponsors of one bill.

Of the other bills, one was proposed by Sens. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who is running for president, and the other was proposed by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

Bingaman said the analysis "shows that inaction is the real danger with regards to climate policy" because developing countries such as India and China won't limit emissions unless the United States acts first.

Thinking locally
"The U.S. needs to address the problem of global warming as soon as possible, if we hope to reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions around the world," said Bingaman, who issued a statement responding to the EPA report.

Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the most prominent of greenhouse gases that scientists say are accumulating in the atmosphere, where they act like a blanket to hold in the earth's warmth.

The EPA analysis, which had been sought by Bingaman and Specter, assumed that without global CO2 constraints, concentrations of the gas would nearly double to 718 parts per million, or ppm, by 2095. At those levels, scientists say, the Earth faces serious warming.

Adoption of any of the bills — which vary somewhat but all include a "cap-and-trade" approach to limit CO2 emissions — would lower CO2 concentrations by 23 ppm to 25 ppm in 2095, the study said.

That alone would still leave concentrations far too high.

But if the U.S reductions under any of the three bills are accompanied by "aggressive international action" involving all countries — including rapidly developing nations such China — CO2 concentrations would be expected to stabilized and be no more than 496 ppm in 2095, according to the EPA.

The agency did not examine all the proposals being considered in Congress. Two other Senate bills would call for a more aggressive reduction of CO2 — at least 80 percent by mid-century. A revised proposal offered by Lieberman, and joined by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., would require a 70 percent cut in emissions by 2050.

Concentrations of CO2 have increased from pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm to about 380 ppm today. Climate scientists believe emissions must be curtailed to levels that stabilize atmospheric concentrations to between 450 and 550 ppm to avoid serious warming and climate disruptions this century.

Financial cap needed, many argue
President Bush last week at a global warming summit reiterated that he believes voluntary actions — buttressed by the development of new technologies to expand use of non-fossil fuels, conservation and carbon capture — will be enough reduce the growth of greenhouse gases and forestall serious climate change.

Most environmentalists and many members of Congress contend such technologies will not be developed unless an economy-wide cap is put on CO2 emissions. While at least seven various CO2 cap and trade measures have been proposed in Congress, none has yet to emerge from any committees.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, last week suggested another approach: a carbon tax and a 50-cent a gallon additional gasoline tax to reduce fossil fuel use. Dingell this week is expected to also unveil for discussions a proposal for a cap-and-trade measure as part of broader climate legislation.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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