Senate climate bill tougher than House version

September 29, 2009 10:37:29 AM PDT
A Senate climate bill will require a 20 percent cut in greenhouse gases by 2020, deeper than the reductions mandated by the House, according to a draft of the bill. The draft obtained by The Associated Press, remains subject to change. But the 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. But it does not lay out how emission allowances would be distributed, leaving that for later. The bill is viewed widely as an early focus of Senate negotiations.

The 684-page draft calls for 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 requires a faster early ramp-up, something many in industry had wanted to avoid. The House called for a 17 percent emission cut by 2020 and President Barrack Obama originally had sought only a 14 percent cut.

But 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, a reduction attributed largely to the economic recession.

The Democratic bill will be co-sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the environment committee's chairman, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., two of the Senate's strongest advocates for aggressive action to counter global warming.

But the bill to be unveiled Wednesday is viewed by both supporters and opponents of climate legislation as largely a starting point in what is expected to be intense and difficult negotiations in the Senate.

Republicans, with the exception of a few, have voiced strong opposition to cap-and-trade climate legislation calling it a massive energy tax on consumers as energy prices increase amid the shift away from fossil fuels. And many centrist Democrats - especially 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 will 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 the cost 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 the natural gas producers - both attempts to garner broader support.

Unlike the House version, the Senate draft does not prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases under the existing Clean Air Act. Democrats wanting a bill this year have used the argument that if Congress doesn't act, the EPA will.

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