A simmering conflict between U.S. lawmakers and the Bush administration over global climate change could boil over in the coming week when the Senate debates legislation that would require U.S. industry to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases.
WASHINGTON A simmering conflict between U.S. lawmakers and the Bush administration over global climate change could boil over in the coming week when the Senate debates legislation that would require U.S. industry to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases.
President Bush has rebuffed pleas from world leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, to take mandatory action to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, which are blamed for rising temperatures.
But three different Senate approaches to address the issue could be offered as early as Monday as amendments to pending energy legislation. The Senate debate comes two weeks before the Group of Eight industrialized nations meets in Scotland, where Blair hopes to hatch an action plan for rich nations to fight global warming.
The most sweeping option is from Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who are applying pressure with a plan that would set a mandatory cap on U.S. carbon emissions.
"You've got to have an immediate effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," McCain said, adding that any climate change plan that doesn't do that is "a fig leaf" and "a joke."
Their proposal would create a trading program for emitters to buy and sell carbon allowances, modeled on a successful 1990 program to control acid rain. The McCain-Lieberman plan to cut U.S. carbon output to 2000 levels by 2010 was defeated nearly two years ago with a 55-43 vote, but environmental groups say it is gaining support.
"Global warming is serious, it's real and it's here," Lieberman told reporters this month.
The two senators contend their plan is long overdue to rein in the United States, the world's biggest emitter of heat-trapping gases which have been linked to shrinking glaciers, rising seas and warmer temperatures.
A second approach, which would encourage voluntary cuts by industry, was developed by Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. His plan would offer tax breaks to companies willing to cut emissions, but it would not cap overall U.S. emissions.
Meanwhile Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico has crafted what is seen as a compromise plan. This option would cut U.S. greenhouse gas intensity -- or emissions per unit of economic growth -- by 2.4 percent per year starting in 2010.
It would also create a trading program but would limit prices for carbon emissions allowances that noncomplying utilities could buy at $7 per ton, far below the record near $25 a ton set recently in the European market.
Critics say the Bingaman approach would not encourage industry utilities and manufacturing plants to invest in new technology to limit emissions. Instead, it would create a kind of tax, allowing companies to emit whatever they want as long as they paid $7 a ton.
Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, the Senate's top Republican energy bill negotiator, has thrown his weight behind a plan by the National Commission on Energy Policy for a mandatory cap-and-trade system similar to Bingaman's proposal.
"I think the (NCEP plan) is very much the middle ground on climate change right now," said Alex Flint, Domenici's energy adviser. "It may be the bipartisan consensus." Domenici could support Bingaman's plan, but has been negotiating with the White House to resolve differences, Flint said.
The international chorus calling for action by the United States is rising. A statement this month by the national science academies of 11 countries said: "It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities.
The Bush administration has repeatedly called for more studies and expressed concern about the cost to America's economy of any mandatory cuts in greenhouse gases.
Bush has called for industry to voluntarily cut its greenhouse emissions intensity by 18 percent by 2012.
"The administration is not convinced of the need for additional legislation with respect to global climate change and will oppose any climate amendments that are inconsistent with the president's climate change strategy," the White House Office of Management and Budget said last week.
A leaked G8 draft communique on climate change dated June 14 removed earlier statements on research funding and continues to exclude timetables for action.