Congress Prepares to Tackle Global Warming Legislation

Potential presidential rivals Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama are joining with newly independent Sen. Joe Lieberman on a plan they say would reduce global-warming gases by two-thirds over the next four decades.

Their bill, being announced Friday, is intended to cut the heat-trapping emissions by 2 percent a year through midcentury. It is sure to produce a contentious debate on climate control in the new Democratic-run Congress and draw strong opposition from the White House and industry.

Sens. McCain, Obama and Lieberman are specifying mandatory caps on greenhouse emissions for power plants, industry and oil refineries. Their plan would require releases of heat-trapping gases to return to 2004 levels by 2012 and to 1990 levels by 2020.

Carbon dioxide, produced from the burning of fossil fuels, is the primary greenhouse gas. U.S. emissions of this gas have increased an average of about 1 percent a year since 1990.

Under the proposed legislation, greenhouse gas emissions would be cut from 6,100 metric tons of carbon equivalent in 2004 to about 2,100 metric tons in 2050, according to a fact sheet describing the legislation.

As a compromise, the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee is preparing a more modest bill that would slow the growth of greenhouse gases. Under the proposal by Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman, annual emissions would continue to increase until 2030 and then perhaps decline.

McCain and Lieberman offered a climate bill two years ago, as did Bingaman. The McCain-Lieberman legislation was defeated by a Senate then controlled by Republicans; Bingaman withdrew his bill after it became clear he lacked the votes for passage.

Since then, lawmakers have become increasingly convinced that Congress must do something to deal with the threat of global warming.

Scientific evidence has pointed to a warming of the earth because of pollution, and 2006 was reported as the warmest on record in the United States, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

“With each passing year, the consequences of federal inaction on reducing greenhouse gas emissions become more devastating for our children and grandchildren, and the range of solutions grows smaller,” Obama said in a statement released Thursday.

Bingaman, however, said he was looking for a compromise with better prospects for approval.

“I am committed to developing bipartisan climate change legislation that can pass the Congress this year,” Bingaman said.

President George W. Bush has opposed regulating carbon dioxide, contending it would cost too much and deter economic growth. He has turned to a plan of voluntary emissions reductions through increased energy conservation and use of nonfossil fuels by industry. Those measures are well on their way to slowing the growth of greenhouse gases, the administration says.

That is not enough, however, for Obama, McCain and Lieberman.

Lieberman insisted their bill “solves the global warming problem without weakening the nation’s economic position or imposing hardship on its citizens.” Their plan would rely heavily on the development of new technologies and market-based techniques to diminish the cost of emissions reductions, he said.

To keep costs in check, businesses could buy emission “credits” from other companies that have exceeded their reduction targets and could use other methods to avoid the most costly cutbacks, according to a draft of the bill obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

“This sets the stage for the new Congress and the 2008 presidential race” on the issue of climate change, said Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation.

An analysis released by the government’s Energy Information Administration concludes that the mandatory “cap-and-trade” approach advocated by Bingaman would have a modest effect on household energy costs at little overall cost to the economy.

The agency estimated that under Bingaman’s plan, consumers’ electricity bills in 2030 probably would be about 11 percent higher than what they otherwise would have been. Households would pay an additional $41 (euro32) to $58 (euro45) a year for energy in 2020 and an additional $118 (euro90) to $136 (euro105) in 2030.

The EIA estimated that while the growth of emissions would slow, the amount of heat-trapping pollution would be 24 percent greater in 2030 than in 2004 because of the growth in energy use.

The EIA did not examine the measure coming from Lieberman, McCain and Obama.