WASHINGTON — A bill that would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dramatically cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday and is headed for a vote early next year in the full Senate.
The Climate Security Act, sponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, an independent Democrat from Connecticut, and John Warner, R-Va., would impose a mandatory cap-and-trade program covering coal-burning plants and other facilities that account for 80 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases. It would reduce the emissions to 70 percent of 2005 levels by 2050. That's still short of the 80 percent reduction that world scientists say is needed.
The committee voted 11-8 in favor of the bill.
Under the cap-and-trade system, companies would be given a limited number of emission allowances each year that they could sell or trade. In the early years, the government would give away most of the allowances. Over time, more of them would be sold in auctions. The overall number of allowances would decline each year, forcing the industries to find ways to decrease their emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that cause Earth's climate to warm up.
If it becomes law, the United States would move from being the only industrialized country that opposes mandatory limits on greenhouse emissions to a leader in reducing them and developing new technologies for clean energy.
But the bill will face a tough fight in the closely divided 100-member Senate, where Democrats will need more Republican support to clear a 60-vote requirement. Three other Republicans have announced support: Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Susan Collins of Maine.
President Bush opposes mandatory emissions cuts.
Supporters, however, are moving ahead in the hope that whoever is elected president in 2008 will support the plan and move quickly to put it into effect.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the committee, said the bill wasn't perfect, but that a stronger measure would have less chance of passing. Boxer plans to lead a Senate delegation soon to Bali, Indonesia, where officials from more than 180 countries are starting to work out a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, which called for industrial nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions and expires in 2012.
"We are facing a crisis that will hit our children and our grandchildren the hardest if we don't act aggressively," Boxer said. "Not to act would be wrong, cowardly and irresponsible. I don't want my new grandson, who is now 5 months old, to look at me in 20 years, or look at my picture in 20 years, and say, 'What was she thinking?'"
Boxer and other supporters said the news on global warming wasn't all bad, because solutions were within reach.
"If we can overcome politics as usual, if we utilize the knowledge and technology that is available today, not only can we reverse global warming, but we can create millions of good jobs in the process," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Money from sales of emissions allowances would be used to improve the environment, such as developing sustainable energy technologies, as well as help low-income people meet their energy needs and train workers for new green jobs.
Opponents, including Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a skeptic on global warming, argued that the bill would be "all pain and no gain."
Inhofe said the U.S. emissions cuts would be too expensive and wouldn't reduce world levels if China continues to use coal to fuel its economy.
But Lieberman said that even if China and India don't act, cuts by the United States would "save the world from the most disastrous consequences" of warming. He added that the bill called for fees on Chinese exporters to compensate for any cost advantage that China would have if it doesn't curb its emissions.
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., said the bill would result in higher heating costs, higher gas prices and more lost jobs.
The measure includes provisions that would cushion Americans from higher costs for heating and gasoline. But the overall costs of the program are hotly disputed, with supporters and opponents of the measure pointing to different studies to buttress their arguments.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., called the bill a Marshall Plan for energy because it would provide incentives for American companies to develop new green technologies and reduce dependence on foreign oil.