updated 9/16/2009 6:00:09 PM ET 2009-09-16T22:00:09

Industry, economic and environmental groups are making a final push to influence a climate bill that may go before the Senate within weeks.

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Investors managing more than $13 trillion in assets called for new global emissions laws Wednesday, illustrating how the issue has divided even groups that traditionally have opposed new curbs.

Speaking at the International Investor Forum on Climate Change, Lord Nicholas Stern, among Britain's most influential economists, said the global debate over curbing greenhouse gases has reached a critical point.

If the U.S. does not pass substantial climate legislation, few believe other nations, particularly developing countries, will cut emissions on their own.

"We have to act now," said Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. "Some things you can postpone. This is not one of them."

Stern three years ago issued an influential report on the global costs of climate change. Greenhouse gases from burning coal and other fossil fuels are blamed for global warming.

He supports the cap-and-trade system that was passed in the U.S. House in June. The new cap-and-trade rules would, for the first time, place national limits on the amount of carbon dioxide that companies can release into the atmosphere.

The eventual cost to businesses and consumers is at the heart of what has become an intense informational and lobbying campaign on both sides. Environmentalists and some money managers see cap-and-trade as the best way to control carbon emissions while oil refiners warn the House bill could make foreign petroleum products cheaper and lead to even more imports.

How the U.S. will proceed on climate change legislation was a major topic at the World Economic Forum in China last week, and it is expected to be discussed in coming days when President Barack Obama speaks at a ministerial meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.

Todd Stern, the U.S. State Department's special envoy for climate change, said last week that it's crucial for the Senate to pass a climate bill. Doing so would give the U.S. the "credibility and leverage" needed to convince other countries like China and India to cut their pollution.

Millions for lobbying
The hard press right now comes on the eve of the United Nations climate change summit in Denmark, and the world is looking for a "sense of direction from the U.S." said Lord Stern.

Meanwhile, oil and gas companies pumped $44.5 million into lobbying Congress and federal agencies in the first three months of the year, according to federal lobbying disclosure data, ramping up spending faster than any other industry.

Efforts to shape legislation has spilled onto the airwaves and to public rallies as well.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which has been critical of the House climate bill, said it will buy TV, radio and Internet ads in coming weeks. The group also will direct its 200,000 members to call lawmakers and express concerns about the climate bill and its effect on energy prices.

The coalition earlier this year acknowledged that a firm it hired through a subcontractor sent 12 forged letters to congressional offices that criticized the House climate bill. Coalition spokeswoman Lisa Camooso Miller said it's no longer using the subcontractor, Bonner & Associates.

And since August, about 20 rallies have been held across the country in recent weeks in opposition to the House legislation. Attendees cite higher energy costs and job losses.

The rallies have been criticized by environmental groups because they were organized by the American Petroleum Institute, which represents major oil companies.

Even among API members, however, there are divisions over such tactics.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Europe's largest oil company, said it would not participate in the rallies. Shell told employees that if they wished to attend, they should do so "on their own time."

There is growing apprehension, at least among those who support climate legislation, that the current fight over changes to health care will leave any new energy policy bogged down in the Senate.

Already, Democrats have said the climate bill may have to wait until next year, though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid maintained Wednesday that his goal would be to bring the climate bill to the floor this year.

More on climate change

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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