WASHINGTON — The Senate's environment committee will take up an energy and climate-change bill today that calls for a 20% cut in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, according to a draft copy of the bill.
The measure, co-sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), will serve as the starting point for what promises to be a long and complicated series of negotiations. The Senate may not produce a final bill until next year.
A House measure passed this summer calls for a 17% reduction in greenhouse gases.
Both the Senate proposal and House bill seek to curb global warming by limiting the amount of heat-trapping gases poured into the air by power plants, factories and others, which would be required to obtain permits for their emissions.
At least in the beginning, some permits might be free, reducing the likelihood of higher energy costs being passed on to consumers. The number of permits would shrink over time, creating pressure to reduce pollution.
The proposed Senate bill preserves the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate emissions unilaterally. And it offers new incentives for nuclear power plant construction -- a provision many Republicans have sought and one that could be crucial to attracting bipartisan support for climate legislation.
Democrats have been pitching climate legislation as a tool to spur clean-energy job creation, but many Republicans and industry critics have warned that it could impose crippling costs on the U.S. economy.
The Senate proposal puts off several key decisions, such as how to allocate emissions permits under the cap-and-trade system, for future discussion. In doing so, Boxer and Kerry -- and indirectly the Obama administration -- were signaling their willingness to cut deals in order to pass a climate bill.
The unresolved issues, however, drew criticism from the top Republican on the environment committee.
Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma told Boxer in a letter Tuesday that until the details are set, "farmers, families and workers have no way of gauging how acutely they will be affected from job losses, higher electricity, food, and gasoline prices."
But the details that are spelled out in the plan send an important signal to international delegates preparing to negotiate a global warming treaty in December: They suggest the outer limits of how far the United States might be prepared to go in curbing its emissions over the next decade.
Environmentalists hailed the draft bill as a major step toward Senate action on climate, and expressed hope of a vote before climate negotiations open in Copenhagen in a little more than two months.
"This appears to be a very solid start, one we hope will get the attention of the entire Senate and galvanize action this year," said Frank O'Donnell, president of the Washington-based group Clean Air Watch.
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House plan vs. Senate plan
Key differences between the House climate bill and the Senate draft proposal:
House: Cuts emissions by 17% by 2020 from 2005 levels, 83% by 2050
Senate: Cuts emissions 20% by 2020, 83% by 2050
House: No new incentives offered
Senate: New, but so far vague, incentives for nuclear power plant construction
House: Initially gives away 85% of greenhouse gas emissions permits to utilities, merchant coal plants, oil refineries and other emitters. Remaining permits sold at auction.
Senate: No details on permit allocation.
Source: Los Angeles Times