Democrats in Congress Push Measures To Curb Global Warming

By Andrzej Zwaniecki
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – Congressional Democrats are pressing ahead with legislation to address global warming despite uncertainty over where the White House stands on specific issues.

A draft bill that would set limits on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could be “put forward” as soon as April, according to Senator Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. In the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked her Democratic colleagues to have their version of climate-change legislation ready for floor action before July, according to news reports.

Several climate-change bills introduced in the Senate vary in focus, scope, reduction requirements and costs to industry. Most rely on a market-based “cup-and-trade” mechanism, which would let companies to receive allowances, or credits, for specific emission amounts tied to overall mandatory limits on emissions. Those credits then could be traded.

Addressing concerns about the impact of any mandatory limits on the economy is key to getting any climate-change measure through Congress, observers say.

Bingaman's draft bill so far has garnered the broadest support both in the Senate and among the major interested parties. It takes a moderate approach to the issue by seeking to tie a proposed cap-and-trade program to GHG emission intensity rather than to absolute reduction targets. It also contains a mechanism to ease the financial burdens on industry if the cost of compliance rises too high. Emission intensity is a measure of emissions per unit of gross domestic product or specific product such as kilowatt hours of electricity.

The plan was criticized by environmental groups because it would not cut emissions below current levels before 2030.

Bingaman told reporters at a Platts Energy Podium event in Washington March 12 he hopes to come out with a “new and improved version” of the draft bill that would establish stronger emission-reduction targets.

But he said the overall goal remains the same: “To do as much as we can without doing overall damage to the economy.”

If enacted, Bingaman's draft bill would have only a modest impact on the economy by reducing gross domestic product 0.1 percent, or $232 billion, by 2030, according to the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). It would cause electricity prices to rise by about 10 percent by 2030, EIA said.

Bingaman said he believes the public would accept some increases in the cost of energy stemming from climate-change legislation.

Other Senate bills aim to deal more aggressively with the issue by calling for reductions in carbon emissions by anywhere from 20 percent below the 2010 level by 2020 to 60 percent from the 1990 level by 2050, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Bingaman said the United State s has to deal with global warming as soon as possible, but needs to set realistic goals and leave more ambitious ones for the future. He said it is uncertain which climate-change bill will receive enough bipartisan support to reach the Senate floor.

Many Republicans continue to remain skeptical about the urgency of action on climate change and oppose any mandatory limits on GHG emissions as harmful to the economy. In recent months, some opposition has softened, however, as a result of more evidence that GHG emissions produced by humans contribute to global warming. U.S. industrial leaders’ calls for federal controls on carbon emissions also have changed the dynamic of the debate on climate change.

Bingaman said many companies are urging Congress to pass federal limits on carbon emissions because they worry about the cost and inconvenience of dealing with a patchwork of state and local emission controls. At least 29 states already have established climate-action programs, including California and eight northeastern states, and 407 mayors have signed on to a climate-protection agreement, according to the Senate Environmental Protection Committee. (See related article.)

Bingaman cautioned that enacting any global warming measure would be difficult if the White House continues to oppose “any and all” limits on GHG emissions.

The White House has not explicitly threatened to veto a bill containing such limits.

But Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman reiterated in February the administration’s opposition to caps on carbon emissions even as he “strongly supported” a key finding of a U.N. report. The report said that GHG emissions related to human activity are most likely primary cause of global warming. (See related article.)

Bingaman said, however, that now the administration seems “more willing to listen to the arguments” on climate-change policies than ever before as both the private-sector attitude and public mood have shifted in favor of action on climate change.

According to a January NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, almost two-thirds of Americans support some action on global warming.

Rick Boucher, Democratic chairman of a House energy subcommittee, said the only way to get a bill with caps on carbon emissions approved by a narrowly divided Senate and endorsed by the White House is to broaden support by the private sector, according to news reports. Boucher is working on a House version of global warming legislation.

For more information on U.S. policies, see Climate Change and Clean Energy.