Key senator predicts strong global-warming measure

WASHINGTON — Leaders from more than a dozen U.S. environmental groups stood beside Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in solidarity Wednesday when she announced that the Senate will have a good chance in June to strengthen and pass a landmark bill to slash greenhouse-gas emissions.

Boxer, who'll shepherd the measure through the Senate as the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, predicted that the bill won't be weakened when the Senate debates it. And she warned that if opponents try to hollow it out, she'll withdraw it and bring it back next year under a new president.

"We have a tremendous opportunity here to take this bill and make it stronger and get it through," she said. "We think this is doable. This has to happen. We have this very short window to act and it is closing."

All three major presidential contenders support the bill's basic concept of a "cap and trade" system in which businesses would get allowances to emit a limited amount of greenhouse gases. Those that could find ways to emit less could sell their allowances to others. The overall limit would grow smaller over the years to bring emissions down.

Boxer's news conference and events by opponents this week set the stage for a tough debate. Energy, mining and other industries object to parts of the bill and will aim for revisions to protect their interests. An anti-regulatory group, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, started running TV ads Tuesday that sound alarms about "massively increasing energy taxes" from the legislation, but give no supporting data.

Although the bill won't be debated in the Senate until June and the House of Representatives hasn't unveiled its version, much work has been going on behind the scenes to eliminate stumbling blocks.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, for example, worked with some senators to develop the idea of a Carbon Market Efficiency Board, which would oversee the emissions trading market and temporarily reduce costs when market corrections were needed.

The bill that will be before the Senate was sponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, an independent Democrat from Connecticut, and John Warner, R-Va. It's full of detail for setting up regulation of emissions. Boxer said nothing needed to be added to make the regulatory system work, but that she hoped to improve the bill's environmental benefits, in part by further lowering the amount of reductions by 2050. The bill now covers about 75 percent of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions and would reduce them 70 percent below 2005 levels.

However, some 2,500 international scientists, in a 2007 report accepted by governments around the world, including the Bush administration, warn that global emissions must be reduced by as much as 85 percent of 2000 levels by 2050 to prevent dangerous climate changes. Some recent scientific reports have suggested that even deeper cuts might be needed.

"The longer we wait the more expensive this will be and the more challenging for the nation," Frances Beinecke, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental nonprofit group, said at the news conference.

Beinecke said she'd met recently with businesspeople from clean technology companies, venture capital firms and multinational companies. "They are looking for what the rules of the road are, where to make investments, and they see a tremendous opportunity here," she said.