Climate Change Grabs Congressional Attention

Since Democrats took charge in Congress, global warming has become the hot new topic. There's a new House panel on the problem and the Senate is full of bills on the same subject.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

Since Democrats took charge in Congress, global warming has become a hot topic. So hot, you might say that the House is creating a special new committee to highlight the problem and senators are introducing one climate change bill after another.

NPR's Elizabeth Shogren has more.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: For years, climate change has gotten a lukewarm hearing in Congress. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that's changed.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): We have seen how important energy independence is to the American people, and the great concern that global warming is to them as well.

SHOGREN: Yesterday, she took the unusual step of announcing a new select committee to focus on the issues. And she wants the House to vote on legislation by the Fourth of July.

Rep. PELOSI: I'll promise to do everything in my power to achieve energy independence, and to do so within 10 years, and to stop global warming.

SHOGREN: The Senate is engaging, too. Already senators have introduced three bills to slow greenhouse gas emissions. More are on the way.

Senator BERNIE SANDERS (Independent, Vermont): Well, I think any sane human being has got to be concerned about climate change. One has got to be a moron not to be.

SHOGREN: Senator Bernie Sanders is an independent from Vermont. He's introduced the most aggressive new bill. He says there's one big reason climate change is getting so much attention.

Sen. SANDERS: You know what? It's increasingly becoming good politics. And a lot of people here in Congress who in the past may not have been so concerned about the issue are catching on that people back home want action, and I think they're going to be prepared to vote for strong legislation.

SHOGREN: All three bills introduced so far aim to reduce the greenhouse gases emitted from burning fossil fuels. But they go at different paces and target different industries. Sanders' bill applies across the economy to vehicles, power plants and factories. It would cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and then keep going. It has a powerful co-sponsor, California Senator Barbara Boxer.

She chairs the committee that's responsible for drafting a bill. But many Democrats say the Sanders-Boxer approach is too abrupt and would harm the economy. Senator Tom Carper is a Democrat from Delaware.

Senator TOM CARPER (Democrat, Delaware): It's a little bit like driving a car down the highway at 55 miles an hour and put in reverse.

SHOGREN: Carper is supporting another bill introduced this week. It was written by California's other Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein. It focuses on the biggest human source of greenhouse gases - emissions of carbon dioxide, or CO2, from power plants.

Sen. CARPER: Our approach is to slow the car down, slow the growth of CO2 emissions. Stop the car, stop the growth of CO2 emissions. Then put the car on reverse, reduce CO2 emissions.

SHOGREN: The Feinstein bill favors the electricity producers in her state. It would make it more expensive to burn coal, and very little of California's power comes from coal. Feinstein says it's important to reach out to industry.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): What I've tried to do here is have a certain segment of the electricity sector be in support of it and hopefully be willing to lobby for it.

SHOGREN: It's an early sign of the kind of jockeying that's sure to take place as Congress tries to tackle climate change.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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