Senate Unveils Plan To Reduce Emissions

Dozens of demonstrators with the group Mobilization for Climate Justice march i i

Dozens of demonstrators with the group Mobilization for Climate Justice march outside the offices of Chevron and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to protest the climate and energy bill, which they say doesn't go far enough. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Dozens of demonstrators with the group Mobilization for Climate Justice march

Dozens of demonstrators with the group Mobilization for Climate Justice march outside the offices of Chevron and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to protest the climate and energy bill, which they say doesn't go far enough.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The health care reform bill is the main draw in Washington, but there's another big show soon to come: a bill to protect the climate from global warming.

The bill is the Senate's version of an energy and climate measure the House of Representatives passed in June. California Democrat Barbara Boxer is expected to unveil it Wednesday. It would essentially remake the entire energy economy of the country.

So far, the word is that the Senate bill will be tougher on climate warming pollution than the House version. Boxer wants American industry to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The House bill asks for a 17 percent drop.

Cap And Trade

But mostly, the Senate bill follows the House text. Nonetheless, the Senate is a different place. Agriculture interests have a lot of influence in the Senate, and farm groups are expected to press hard to win the right to earn money from "carbon credits" or offsets. These are essentially carbon credits earned by burying or reducing carbon somehow. For farmers, that could be planting without tilling, or growing trees, planting grass, or capturing methane from animal waste instead of letting it go up into the atmosphere. These credits can be sold or traded to companies whose emissions exceed the cap permitted under the bill's so-called "cap and trade" system.

Bill supporters will also face intense lobbying from utilities and others who want a bigger share of the free emissions permits that will be doled out under the new climate regime. Every emitting industry will get a certain number of permits every year and would have to pay to get more.

To win Senate passage, the bill may also have to include subsidies for nuclear power, which has influential supporters such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Republicans have almost unanimously opposed the climate bills in the House and Senate, arguing that they'll cripple the economy and raise consumers' energy bills.

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