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US Senate Panel To Vote on Climate Change Bill Next Month


A U.S. Senate committee is drafting legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The panel is expected to vote on the bill by the time a U.N. conference on climate change is under way in Bali, Indonesia early next month. VOA's Deborah Tate has a look at the Senate legislation and its prospects for passage.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Virginia Republican Senator John Warner and Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who calls himself an Independent Democrat, would set up a complex emissions trading system similar to one used by the European Union.

The measure would set caps on U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases beginning in 2012 with the goal of cutting emissions 63 percent by 2050. The legislation would create an incentive system that would give credits to industries that cut pollution. Industries that failed to reduce emissions would be forced to buy credits from others.

Senator Lieberman says climate change is causing more severe storms and weather-related damage, and he urged fellow lawmakers to pass his legislation soon.

"The economic costs to this country of unchecked global warming will be grievous by mid-century unless we act now to mandate significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions," he said.

A report released last week by the Nobel Prize-winning U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that global warming could lead to sea levels rising high enough to submerge island nations, widespread famine in Africa, and elimination of one-quarter of the world's species if carbon emissions are not brought under control.

The Lieberman-Warner bill is under consideration by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is expected to vote on the measure the first week in December, when the U.N. conference on climate change will be underway in Bali.

Supporters of the legislation hope its passage will show the world that the United States is serious about reducing global warming.

But the bill is facing stiff resistance from both sides of the political aisle.

Republicans are taking aim at the potential economic impact of the measure, saying it would increase energy costs and lead to job losses. They add that the bill does not ensure that other nations, particularly China and India, will cut emissions.

"Rising energy prices from this bill I believe will threaten blue-collar jobs in automotive assembly, steel, aluminum, cement, plastics and fertilizers," Senator Christopher Bond, a Missouri Republican. "These manufacturers will flee high prices as they have already done, they have fled the United States, taking jobs with them to lower-energy-cost countries, as close as Mexico or as far as China."

Democrats generally endorse the cap-and-trade plan in the bill. But some oppose the provision that would allocate free emission permits to utilities, power plants, and other industrial facilities through 2036.

"This legislation allows major polluters to continue emitting greenhouse gases for free until the year 2036," said Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent who votes with the Democrats. "In fact, old-fashioned, dirty coal burning plants could still be built during this period, and that is wrong."

In a response to Sanders, Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the committee, acknowledged shortcomings with the legislation, but said it is a good bill overall.

"We could hold out for the perfect, and that is very dangerous, because that leads to no bill. No bill, doing nothing about global warming in the face of all the science, would be just very irresponsible," she said.

It remains unclear whether supporters can overcome opposition to the bill, a point underscored by Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat.

"We are divided on these issues, these are difficult issues, there is a lot of disagreement," he said. "It is not entirely partisan, but it certainly is strong, and it is just difficult to overcome."

The legislation would need action by the full Senate and the House of Representatives before it could be sent to President Bush for his consideration. Mr. Bush previously has said he opposes mandatory carbon caps, saying they would hurt the U.S. economy.