Senate May Weigh Climate in Energy Bill

Despite opposition from the White House (search), a growing number of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate (search) want to address global warming, including limits on heat-trapping emissions, as part of the country's broad energy policy.

The Senate is schedule to take up energy legislation next week and hopes to finish it this month. Whether to include a measure on climate change will be sharply debated.

The House rebuffed any attempt to address global warming when it passed its energy bill in April. If the Senate moves ahead with a climate provision it would create yet another major confrontation when the two chambers try to reconcile their differences and fashion a final bill.

President Bush has called on Congress (search) to end more than four years of haggling over energy policy and send him a bill by August. The White House strongly opposes any mandatory limits on greenhouse emissions — such as carbon from burning fossil fuels — that many scientists believe are causing the earth of become warmer.

At least three amendments dealing with climate change are being crafted. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who will shepherd the bill through the floor debate, said he expects climate to be "a very big issue."

This week, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a skeptic on climate science, introduced a bill that may also become part of the energy debate. It would prohibit utilities from being required to charge customers for the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In recent days there have been intense discussions to try to forge a compromise on the climate issue. Proponents of a climate provision argue that the country's energy blueprint cannot pretend to be complete without addressing ways to at least reduce the growth of heat-trapping gas going into the atmosphere.

A proposal to be offered by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., that would limit greenhouse emissions five years from now to where they were in 2000 has been given little chance of approval, although it got 43 votes in the Senate two years ago.

Instead, attention is being focused on a compromise measure pushed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., that would establish a mandatory system of emission permits aimed at limiting the growth of greenhouse gasses over the next 15 years. It also calls for an emissions trading system aimed at reducing the economic burden so U.S. businesses are not harmed internationally.

The proposal is modeled after recommendations from a private, bipartisan commission of energy experts who studied ways to forge a middle path on climate change and a variety of other polarizing energy issues. The White House has rejected the group's climate proposal, saying mandatory limits of any kind would "do more harm than good."

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., also has been crafting a climate proposal, although it would rely heavily on the call for increased research into climate science, development of clean-energy technologies, and ways to trap carbon emissions with no mandatory restrictions.

The White House has argued that voluntary measures can reduce the growth of greenhouse pollution — though not actually reduce the amount going into the atmosphere — by as much as 1.8 percent a year until 2012. Bingaman's proposal would reduce such growth 2.4 percent a year between 2010 and 2020.

Domenici said that while he was not yet ready to endorse Bingaman's climate proposal, he is not rejecting it either. He acknowledged that he would prefer the climate issue were dealt with separately and not muddy up the Senate's consideration of energy legislation, but he said he knows that won't be the case.

Speaking at a forum sponsored by the trade publication Energy Daily, Alex Flint, Domenici's top staffer on energy matters, said Friday, "I think the ground is shifting under us on the politics of climate change."

At a similar forum earlier in the week, Rep. Joe Barton made clear that House Republicans, who will negotiate energy legislation with the Senate, believe otherwise.

"Will the House accept some odorous climate change provision?" Barton asked, according to an Energy Daily report. "I don't think so."