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CEOs encourage emissions caps

Big-business executives tell a Senate panel that the U.S. should take the lead on climate change.

February 14, 2007|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Corporate CEOs do not usually come to Capitol Hill to lobby for more government regulation. But that's what a group of executives did Tuesday, urging Congress to cap emissions blamed for global warming.

Peter Darbee, chairman and chief executive officer of PG&E Corp. -- parent of California's largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. -- called for the United States to be "at the forefront of addressing global climate change" by approving a mandatory program to reduce greenhouse gases.

Charles O. Holliday Jr., chairman and chief executive of DuPont Co., added that he believed "voluntary efforts alone will not solve the problem."

Proponents of a mandatory program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions see support from such businessmen as crucial to getting legislation through the narrowly divided Congress and past President Bush's veto pen.

The executives were invited to appear at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing by its chairwoman, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who has made passage of legislation addressing global warming her top priority.

The testimony from the executives, including Steve Elbert, vice chairman of BP America, was intended to rebut arguments that mandatory caps on emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases would be bad for business and drive up costs.

The CEOs impressed at least one Republican. "You got my attention," Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) told them.

Still, he remained noncommittal on whether he would support a mandatory-cap bill.

Some other committee Republicans, however, dismissed the CEOs' testimony, underscoring the challenge facing proponents of emission caps.

Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, perhaps Congress' leading skeptic of human activity as a cause of global warming, accused the executives of advocating limits in order to boost investments by their companies in cleaner energy sources, such as solar power.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) contended that mandatory caps would lead to higher energy costs in his state, which is heavily dependent on coal-fired power. Coal-fired power plants are a major source of carbon dioxide emissions.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is sponsoring a bill that would cap emissions from power plants, acknowledged that there was "not much Republican support" for such measures. But he said that he thought there would be more support after the CEOs' testimony.

The hearing was one of four on climate change held Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Several more are scheduled in the weeks ahead, including one featuring former Vice President Al Gore, an outspoken advocate of taking steps to curb global warming.

Other supporters of such efforts have been heartened by the attention being devoted to the issue in the Democratic-controlled Congress.

The executives who testified Tuesday are part of a coalition of companies and environmental groups that have called for a "cap and trade" program that would allow companies that reduce emissions to below a level set by the federal government to sell credits to companies that exceed the cap. Its backers say the program is designed to ensure that the overall emission level is met, without seriously hindering some businesses.

richard.simon@latimes.com

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