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Last stand for climate bill this year?

Top Obama administration officials and Senate Democrats on Tuesday began  a three-day process aimed at swaying Republicans to back a bill that aims to curb global warming and invest in cleaner energy.
Congress Climate Change
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., makes opening remarks Tuesday at the Senate hearing on energy and global warming. Seated behind him from left are: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood; Energy Secretary Steven Chu; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff; and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. Susan Walsh / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Top Obama administration officials and Senate Democrats on Tuesday began a three-day process aimed at swaying Republicans to back an energy bill that aims to curb global warming emissions and invest in cleaner energy — but Republicans showed no signs of backing down, countering that the bill would raise energy prices and cost jobs.

Sen. Barbara Boxer opened the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing by calling the bill "our best insurance against a dangerous future." The California Democrat chairs the committee.

Boxer challenged the Republican view, noting that the Environmental Protection Agency calculates the bill would cost the average American family about $100 a year, or about 30 cents a day.

"What will America’s families get for 30 cents a day," she asked. "For 30 cents a day, we will put America in control of our own energy future and take a stand for home-grown American energy rather than foreign oil from countries who don’t like us.

"For 30 cents a day, we will protect our children from dangerous pollution," she added. "For 30 cents a day, we will send a signal that sparks billions of dollars of private investment and job creation. For 30 cents a day, we will be the world’s leader in clean energy technology."

Chu: U.S. 'has fallen behind'
The White House has made clear its support for the 900-page Democratic bill that would cut greenhouse gases by 80 percent over the next 40 years. It was sending three Cabinet secretaries and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to the hearing in hopes of persuading some wavering senators to support the measure.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the United States "has fallen behind" on clean energy while China and others have sped ahead.

"The world’s largest turbine manufacturing company is headquartered in Denmark," he said. "Ninety-nine percent of the batteries that power America’s hybrid cars are made in Japan. We manufactured more than 40 percent of the world’s solar cells as recently as the mid 1990s; today, we produce just 7 percent."

"China is spending about $9 billion a month on clean energy," he said in comparison. "It is also investing $44 billion by 2012 and $88 billion by 2020 in ultra high voltage transmission lines. These lines will allow China to transmit power from huge wind and solar farms far from its cities."

Chu also cited a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration that found that "the cumulative investment in wind turbines and solar photovoltaic panels from now through 2030 could be $2.1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, respectively."

"The policy decisions we make today will determine the U.S. share of this market," he said. "And many additional dollars, jobs and opportunities are at stake in other clean technologies."

Full vote no longer expected this yearSenate Democrats have all but abandoned the likelihood of getting a climate bill passed this year, although they hoped that they could show some progress at the hearing — such as clearing the bill out of a key committee — in advance of international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the leading sponsor of the Democrats' climate bill, said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday and said it was urgent for the United States to show "some movement in the Senate" on restricting greenhouse gases ahead of the upcoming talks in Copenhagen.

Kerry acknowledged that the Senate's tight schedule and heavy focus on health care has made action on climate difficult.

Similar to a House-passed bill, the legislation would cap greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and large industrial facilities. Polluters would have to obtain emission permits, and the number of permits would be ratcheted down gradually to achieve the reductions. To ease the transition, polluters would be able to buy and sell allowances as necessary to meet the government-imposed caps.

The EPA said that the Senate bill is so similar to the House-passed bill that the economic impact would likely be the same — between $80 and $100 in additional energy costs a year for an average household. Critics of the bill argue the costs would be much higher.

Arguments against
Republicans have denounced the so-called cap-and-trade approach as a massive energy tax.

Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the committee's ranking Republican, said in an interview Monday that he expects Democrats to push the bill through the committee, but that it won't pass the Senate. Still, he said he and the other six GOP committee members are united in wanting to see additional information on the cost of the legislation beyond a cursory analysis provided by the EPA in a report released by Boxer late Friday night.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a member of the committee, told reporters Monday that the cap-and-trade approach "is fundamentally flawed" and would raise energy prices and cost jobs. Instead Alexander called for 100 new nuclear power reactors to be built, incentives to make half the country's cars run on electricity and expanded natural gas development.