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US Senate Opens Debate on Climate Change Bill

The U.S. Senate has begun debate on legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. In a 74 to 14 procedural vote, senators agreed to move ahead with debate late Monday. But chances of the bill's passage appear slim, with many lawmakers concerned about its impact on the economy, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The legislation would set caps on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from electric utility, transportation and manufacturing industries beginning in 2012, with the goal of reducing such emissions by as much as 66 percent by 2050.

Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who calls himself an independent Democrat, is a chief sponsor of the measure:

"Beginning in 2012, this legislation would place a cap on the aggregate greenhouse emissions that 2,100 facilities in America that are responsible for 85 percent of those emissions in this country," said Senator Lieberman.

The bill 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 John Warner, a Virginia Republican, the other cosponsor of the bill, says Americans are concerned about the impact of climate change and want Congress to act.

"There is a great feeling all across America by people in small villages and towns and large cities to state legislatures and others that we must move and move now," said Senator Warner. "Do something. Doing nothing is not an option."

But other Republicans, including President Bush reject the legislation, saying it would increase energy costs and lead to job losses.

Even before the Senate began considering the bill, the president highlighted his opposition, saying the measure would cost the U.S. economy $6 trillion.

"There's a much better way to address the environment than imposing these costs on the job creators, which will ultimately have to be borne by American consumers," said President Bush. "And I urge the Congress to be very careful about running up enormous costs for future generations of Americans."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president would veto the bill in its present form.

Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, says the legislation does nothing to press other nations, particularly China and India, to cut their emissions.

"All major emitting countries, including developing nations, must participate in order for any U.S. program to produce meaningful reductions in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases," said Senator Inhofe. "Today, China emits more carbon dioxide than we do, and that divide is only going to grow."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, responded:

"Should we as some say wait for China and India to act? Of course not, Mr. [Senate] President," said Senator Reid. "Since when does America let other countries lead the way? It is our responsibility to forge the path that other nations will follow."

All three major presidential candidates, Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, support government-imposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Supporters of the Senate bill believe chances for passage will be better when there is a new occupant in the White House next year.