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Key senators reach deal for CO2 cap-and-trade

A U.S. Senate panel Wednesday began drawing up a sweeping law that would put mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions after a key Republican endorsed the idea.
/ Source: Reuters

A U.S. Senate panel Wednesday began drawing up a sweeping law that would put mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions after a key Republican endorsed the idea.

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, passed legislation recognizing the "reality" of climate change and providing money to work on the problem.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Environment Committee, wants Congress to pass legislation that would for the first time place caps on emissions of heat-trapping gases from power plants, cars and factories.

Those efforts moved forward after Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican and one of the most senior committee members, agreed to work with Democrats "to craft a comprehensive climate bill." The United States is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Boxer called the accord "a groundbreaking moment," saying Warner was the first Republican on her committee to back the idea of economy-wide reductions.

A first for climate legislation
"This will be the first time that any committee or subcommittee of Congress has attempted to pass comprehensive climate change legislation," said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

A "cap-and-trade" approach — backed by Warner and Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, would set industry-specific reduction targets and require those that exceed them to buy permits to pollute.

Coal-burning power plants emit the most U.S. carbon dioxide, about 40 percent of the total, and cars emit about a third of the total.

Boxer said her committee could vote on the plan — which was still under negotiation — after Congress returns from its August recess, and the full Senate could vote on it this year.

Boxer's efforts jibe with those of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who wants to halve U.S. emissions by 2050 through a cap-and-trade system.

Auto ally ready to deal
Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a key climate-change negotiator, said on Wednesday the issue would be addressed in "comprehensive climate change legislation" the House will weigh in the fall.

Stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions at a safe level will require a reduction of between 60 percent and 80 percent by 2050, Dingell said.

Dingell's views are key because he is a long-time ally of Detroit automobile makers, who have resisted attempts in California and other states to regulate vehicle emissions of carbon dioxide.

In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this year that the Environmental Protection Administration has the authority under the federal Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles.

President Bush opposes mandatory limits on emissions, saying they would harm the economy. Instead, Bush has set a goal of reducing the intensity of emissions — as measured against economic growth — by 18 percent by 2012.

House action
In the House on Wednesday, lawmakers, by a vote of 272-155, approved an environmental funding bill for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 that would increase federal investments in basic research on climate change and establish a new commission to review scientific questions that need to be addressed.

The White House has threatened a veto of the $27.6 billion bill because its overall spending would exceed Bush's request by about $2 billion. The Senate has not yet debated the bill.

By inserting a declaration in the bill that climate change is a "reality," the Democratic-controlled House was trying to move U.S. policy-makers beyond a debate, long stimulated by the Bush administration, over whether there was scientific proof that global warming really is something that needs to be addressed.

A leading promoter of that debate has been Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, who has referred to global warming as a "hoax." He chaired the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee until Republicans lost control of Congress this year.

Many scientists worry global warming will produce a series of environmental catastrophes, from more violent storms and the collapse of many species, to worsening food shortages and diseases in some regions.

The climate change commission envisioned by the House bill would make its first recommendations by July 1, 2008 and the panel's work would end in 2009.

A White House statement said the Bush administration was committed to addressing "the important issue of climate change," but that the commission would duplicate government efforts already under way.

The House-passed bill also would beef up funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by giving the agency over $8 billion next year, $887 million more than Bush sought, mainly for water cleanup and clean air programs.