Senate Finally to Introduce Climate Bill

WASHINGTON -- A climate bill being introduced Wednesday in the U.S. Senate would impose deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The chamber's slow deliberative process, however, makes it unlikely that the United States will have a bill and firm reduction target to present at a world environment conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in just over two months.

The bill faces extended debate and revisions in the Senate, and even if passed before the Dec. 7-18 Copenhagen conference, differences between the Senate version and the bill already passed by Congress' other chamber, the House of Representatives, will have to be reconciled in still more contentious bargaining.

President Barack Obama has made global warming legislation a priority goal of his first term, ranking close to an overhaul of the U.S. health care system as must-do work. The United States opted out of the current agreement on controlling greenhouse gas emissions, signed in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997.

Based on the House bill and the coming Senate bill, a draft of which was obtained by The Associated Press, the United States will continue to fall far short of expectations of most other developed countries.

The Senate draft specifies a ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions beginning in three years, to be tightened annually so that emissions would be 20 percent lower in 2020 than they were in 2005. Emissions would have to be 83 percent lower by 2050. While the long-term cuts are the same as required by the House in June, the Senate bill would require a faster early ramp-up, which many in industry had wanted to avoid. The House would establish a 17 percent emission cut by 2020. Obama originally had sought a cut of only 14 percent.

The European Union is urging other rich countries to match its pledge of 20 percent emissions cuts by 2020 based on 1990 levels.

The Senate draft remains subject to change, but its overall carbon reduction requirements are expected to stand. The Democratic bill is to be released Wednesday by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with a vote by the panel likely in late October.

The draft includes an economy-wide cap and trade system that would require power plants, industrial facilities and refineries to cut carbon dioxide and other climate-changing pollution. It does not lay out how emission allowances would be distributed, leaving that for later.

Democratic aides involved in crafting the bill said the legislation also includes measures that would make early reductions requirements easier to achieve. Also, they argued that information released since the House acted shows carbon dioxide emissions in the United States today already are 6 percent lower than what they were in 2005, attributed largely to the economic recession.

Almost all Republicans have voiced strong opposition to cap-and-trade climate legislation. They consider it a massive energy tax on consumers as energy prices increase amid the shift away from fossil fuels. Even many centrist Democrats, especially those from rural areas and from states with energy-intensive industries, have expressed reluctance to support any bill that does not protect against energy cost spikes and protect domestic industries.

The Senate draft does not spell out how emission allowances would be distributed, leaving one of the most contentious issues to further negotiations. The House would provide for free 85 percent of emission allowances to various industries, especially electric utilities to help reduce costs to consumers.

Democratic aides, speaking on condition of anonymity because the bill had not yet been released, said it would include measures to benefit the nuclear industry and for natural gas producers, attempts to win broader support.