Tue, Jun 03, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Senate divided on cost of tackling climate change

DEBATE While only a few senators now dispute the reality of global warming, both parties say prospects for passage of a climate bill are slim this election year


From higher electric bills to more expensive gasoline, the possible economic cost of tackling global warming is driving the debate as climate change takes center stage in the US Congress.

Legislation set for Senate debate yesterday would require a reduction in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from power plants, refineries, factories and transportation. The goal is to cut heat-trapping pollution by two-thirds by midcentury.

With gasoline at US$4 per gallon (US$1.05 per liter) and home heating and cooling costs soaring, it is getting harder to sell a bill that would transform the country’s energy industries and — as critics will argue — cause energy prices to rise even more.

Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, who is a leading sponsor of the bill, says computer studies suggest a modest impact on energy costs, with several projections for continued economic growth. Sponsors says the bill also offers billions of dollars in tax breaks to offset higher energy bills.

Lawmakers returning from the Memorial Day break have more than just energy legislation to work on. Through a printing error, a 34-page section of a US$290 billion farm bill did not make it into the final version that became law. Senators now must deal with the missing section on trade and international food.

The House and Senate are also going back and forth over spending for the Iraq war, college benefits for veterans and New Orleans’ levees.

The debate on global warming is viewed as a watershed in climate change politics. Yet both sides acknowledge the prospects for passage are slim this election year.

Several Republican Party senators are promising a filibuster; the bill’s supporters are expressing doubt they can find the 60 votes to overcome the delaying tactic.

Only a few senators now dispute the reality of global warming. Still, there is a sharp divide over how to lessen the country’s heavy dependence on coal, oil and natural gas without passing along substantially higher energy costs to the public.

The petroleum industry, manufacturers and business groups have presented study after study, based on computer modeling, that they say bear out the massive cost and disruption from mandating lower carbon emissions.

Environmental groups counter with studies that show modest cost increases from the emission caps provide new incentives to develop alternative energy sources and promote energy efficiency and conservation.

“This debate is going to be mostly about costs,” says Daniel Lashoff, director of the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“But we want to make sure in that debate we don’t forget that the cost of inaction on global warming would be much higher than the cost of the emission reductions called for in this bill,” he said.

The proposal would cap carbon dioxide releases at 2005 levels by 2012. Additional reductions would follow annually so that by 2050, total US greenhouse emissions would be about one-third of current levels.

The bill would create a pollution allowance trading system. That would generate billions of dollars a year to help people offset expected higher energy costs, promote low-carbon energy alternatives and help industries deal with the transition.

Part of the US$6.7 trillion projected to be collected from the allowances over 40 years would go toward US$800 billion in tax breaks to offset people’s higher energy costs.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top