From: Agence France-Presse
Published February 27, 2009 08:57 AM

Polluters pay in Obama's 'green' budget

US President Barack Obama is banking on a landmark carbon gas cap-and-trade system to both fight climate change and pump 80 billion dollars into the Treasury purse to fund renewable energy programs.

The innovative program -- similar to one already in place in Europe -- would rev up US efforts against global warming by reducing the output of carbon dioxide and other polluting gases, while raising direly-needed revenue.

The administration's proposed program was part of a 3.55-trillion-dollar budget unveiled by the president Thursday, which outlines a cap-and-trade system which would limit emissions of greenhouse gases by manufacturers, and permit companies to trade the right to pollute to other manufacturers.

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The program forces heavy polluters to buy credits from companies that pollute less, creating financial incentives to fight global warming.

The approach -- fiercely opposed by the George W. Bush administration as too costly for companies -- penalizes companies that emit the most greenhouse gases, while rewarding the country's "greenest" business enterprises.

Although the United States is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Bush walked away from the 1997 Kyoto treaty which aimed to combat climate change.

Obama now is set to do a brisk about-face on US climate change and energy policy.

The new US president would set aside as much a 15 billion dollars per year for the development of "clean energy" technologies like wind power and solar energy, doubling America's supply of renewable energy in the next three years.

Meanwhile, Americans would receive some 63 billion dollars in tax breaks and other assistance from the sale of these polluting rights in the form of tax breaks for individuals and businesses converting to clean energy technology.

In a major speech to the US Congress on Tuesday, Obama said legislation setting market-based caps on the emissions of carbon gases was overdue.

"To truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy," Obama told lawmakers in his first-ever address to Congress.

"I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America."

Senator Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment Committee, heeded the president's plea.

"We will work in partnership with the president, and we will answer his call," she said in a statement after the speech.

But opposition Republicans expressed doubts, calling the plan a stealth tax levied against the individuals and business.

"Let's just be honest and call it a carbon tax that will increase taxes on all Americans who drive a car, who have a job, who turn on a light switch, pure and simple," said House Minority Leader John Boehner.

"If you look at this whole budget plan, they use this carbon tax as a way to fund all of their big government ideas," said Boehner, who the leader of Republicans in Congress's lower chamber said.

Environmentalists however were elated at the prospect of an aggressive US push to slow down climate change, after years of what has been seen by some as American intransigence on the issue.

"President Obama understands that our economic recovery and our energy future are inextricably linked," said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

"By calling upon Congress to send him market-based global warming legislation, the president has clearly signaled that he understands the risks we face from unmitigated climate change," she said.

Carl Pope, executive director of the environmental group Sierra Club, hailed the "shift in priorities" under the new US administration as a sign that "the era of dirty energy is coming to an end."

"President Obama has acted faster, smarter, and more decisively than any president in memory. He has put us squarely on the path toward a clean energy future," Pope exulted.

He added: "The question is no longer if or when, but only how we will tackle global warming and build the clean energy economy that will rescue us from economic collapse."

This article is reproduced with kind permission of Agence France-Presse (AFP) For more news and articles visit the AFP website.

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