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Senate stumbles in effort to limit emissions

WASHINGTON—Senate efforts to limit emissions of greenhouse gases to help reduce global warming appeared headed for defeat Tuesday, two weeks before leaders of the G-8 major industrial democracies meet to discuss the threat of climate change.

President Bush pressed lawmakers to avoid adding restrictions on emissions to a comprehensive energy bill now before the Senate, saying they'd hurt the economy and be too costly to industry and consumers.

By keeping such restrictions out of the legislation, Bush would avoid a potentially awkward meeting at next month's Group of 8 summit, where he's expected to resist European proposals to control greenhouse gases. The G-8 summit convenes July 6 in Scotland.

On Wednesday, the Senate was poised to defeat a bipartisan proposal by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., that would require carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants to drop to 2000 levels by 2010. Carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping pollutant that scientists say contributes to global warming. A similar proposal failed two years ago.

Some environmentalists and even some utilities had fixed their hopes on another proposal, by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. It wasn't as strict as the McCain-Lieberman plan, but still would have placed caps on emissions. It also would have allowed utilities to accumulate anti-pollution credits that they could trade with other power producers.

But the effort collapsed when Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, the Republican manager of the energy bill, decided not to co-sponsor the bill late Monday, despite Bingaman having courted him for weeks. Domenici had hinted as late as last Friday that he'd support the proposal, but Vice President Dick Cheney met with him privately to lobby for the administration's stance against mandatory caps.

"The truth of the matter is, I'm not anti-doing something," Domenici said Tuesday. "It's that we can't do this."

Lacking Domenici's support, Bingaman was unlikely even to seek a Senate vote on his plan, lobbyists said, but he hadn't decided as of Tuesday evening.

In the House of Representatives, which already has passed an energy bill that contains no climate-change provisions, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, applauded Domenici's change of heart.

"I'm glad to see ... that Domenici is backing off some of the stuff that the Democrats are trying to impose in the bill," DeLay said.

Instead, the Senate passed a measure, 66-29, that would offer tax incentives and loan guarantees to encourage polluters to reduce emissions. That amendment to the energy bill, offered by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., contained no mandatory restrictions.

McCain dismissed Hagel's plan as one that "simply has no bearing on the requirement that we act." Lieberman called it "a fig leaf."

Republican critics of mandatory restrictions argued that the energy legislation already contains a number of provisions that would reduce pollution, including incentives for nuclear power and for cleaner-burning coal.

The United States is the biggest producer of greenhouse gases. But the United States and Australia are the only major developed countries not to sign on to an international treaty, called the Kyoto Protocol, that calls for participating countries to cut emissions to 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said the United States has been unfairly singled out.

"An objective review of government and private-sector programs to reduce increases in greenhouse gases would have to conclude that the United States is doing at least as much if not more than countries that are part of the Kyoto protocol," he said.

Democrats complained that the White House was acting on behalf of the energy industry and had pressured Senate Republicans not to embrace any legislation that would concede that global warming is a problem. White House officials have long argued that the scientific jury is still out regarding the effect of greenhouse gases on climate change.

"Both President Bush and Vice President Cheney worked for oil companies," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "If it's left to this administration, there will be no global warming legislation."

Some advocates of tougher restrictions on emissions, however, said the Bingaman plan could become the foundation for future legislation.

"For the first time there was a proposal that industry thought might become law and that did get everybody's attention," said Paul Bledsoe, the director of communication and strategy at the National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan organization of climate experts who helped Bingaman with his plan. "It was a tipping point."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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