WASHINGTON — Opponents of landmark legislation that would cut greenhouse gas emissions have taken a new approach this week as the Senate began debate on what could eventually be a huge reordering of how the nation gets and uses energy.
Instead of challenging scientific evidence of a warming world, they've focused on costs. In the end, these opponents say, consumers would be hurt.
"One huge change from previous debates is that only one person has raised a question that (global warming) is a problem," said Manik Roy of the Pew Center on Climate Change, which works with large businesses. "The No. 1 thing to me is that it's talk about how to solve it rather than whether to solve the problem."
Under the global warming bill, or Climate Security Act, it would no longer be free for factories or power plants to emit carbon dioxide and other global warming gases into the atmosphere. Fees would be levied to curb such pollution.
It's not expected the bill will become law this year. President Bush has said he'd veto it if it passes. But with the presidential candidates supporting some version of the bill's main ideas, it's widely thought that emissions controls will be put in place in a year or so. For that reason, the debate now offers a hint of opposition to come.
Senators opposing the bill this week warned that the legislation could make the cost of gas go up. They've cited an EPA study that said that the bill could raise prices 53 cents a gallon over 22 years, or 2 cents a year, from 2008 to 2030.
Several senators — Republicans Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire — said they agreed with the concept of limiting emissions and charging a fee for polluting, but wanted different ways to use the proceeds or a program on a smaller scale. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has said he wants more money for nuclear power.
Republican John Warner of Virginia is a sponsor of the bill, and Republicans Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and Olympia Snowe of Maine also spoke in support of it.
But most Republican senators echoed the remarks of the president on Monday. Bush said the bill would impose "roughly $6 trillion of new costs on the American economy" and called it a tax increase. The president rejects mandatory regulation of emissions.
Bush's $6 trillion remark referred to the estimated amount of money the bill would generate by 2050 from sales of permits to emit pollution. The overall limit on greenhouse gas emissions would be lowered each year.
The legislation spells out how money from the permits would be used, including $802 billion in a tax cut for those who need help with higher energy costs and $955 billion for deficit reduction. Billions also would go to help develop cleaner fuels, improve energy efficiency and help wildlife.
The legislation would "raise taxes, raise substantially gas prices, cause worker layoffs and hurt the economy, and leave us less competitive in the world marketplace," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said Wednesday. He called it a "sneaky tax" that would drive up energy costs.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a sponsor of the legislation, said better fuel economy standards and alternatives to gasoline would drive down demand, end dependence on foreign oil and lower the cost of driving. She and other supporters argued that redirecting part of the proceeds from the sale of the pollution permits to renewable energy would create jobs and replace fossil fuels with cleaner alternatives.
"The arguments they're throwing at us are very shallow. In essence, not one of our opponents has ever even addressed the issue of global warming. They've just tried to get us off track on the fictitious attack on gas prices, which falls totally flat," Boxer said at a news conference.
Boxer noted that The National Academies, the government's top advisers on science, engineering and medicine, have reported that the Earth is warming and that most scientists agree that human actions that have increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are to blame.
"That's really why our opponents aren't debating us on this anymore, because they've lost all traction," Boxer said.
Shortly afterward, the debate stopped altogether Wednesday afternoon. Republicans refused to accept the usual practice of debating a bill without hearing a full reading of it, saying the reason was to pressure Democrats to get more circuit judges approved.
The result was that clerks took turns reading the 500-page bill for hours.
ON THE WEB
See the National Academies 2008 report, "Understanding and Responding to Climate Change." (.pdf)
McClatchy Newspapers 2008