Senate to Vote on Carbon Cap-and-Trade Bill

The Senate voted Monday to take up a global warming bill that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by putting a price on carbon. That would essentially require factories, utilities and refineries to pay for the right to emit carbon dioxide. The so-called cap-and-trade system aims to reduce emissions by 70 percent by 2050.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne at NPR West, with Steve Inskeep in Karachi, Pakistan.

The global warming debate has landed in Congress, and in the laps of everyone who uses or produces energy. Late yesterday, the Senate voted to take out the massive proposal to reduce greenhouse gases. It would require factories, utilities and refineries to pay for the right to emit carbon dioxide.

In a moment, we'll tell you about the fight over the trillions of dollars that this cap and trade system will cost. First, to the lawmakers, with NPR's Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The Senate kicked off what could be as many as two weeks of debate on a climate change bill that even its backers concede is unlikely to attract the 60 votes it will need to gain approval. To be sure, it has many supporters on both sides of the aisle. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California called a tri-partisan measure.

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): It is a Democratic, it is Independent, it is Republican. It reflects this country. And when it comes to this issue we have to turn away from partisanship, because this is about our children and their children. It's about the planet that we have inherited, and we must listen to the scientists.

NAYLOR: The bill the Senate is debating aims to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases 19 percent below current levels by 2020 and 71 percent by 2050. It would do so by creating a carbon market. There power plants and industries that produce greenhouse gases could trade allowances they'd be given or buy in auctions. The revenue generated by the auctions would be used for everything from training to green collar jobs to mass transit and low-income tax relief.

The measure's Republican co-sponsor, Senator John Warner of Virginia, harkened back an earlier era as a metaphor for the bill.

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): I look upon this global climate change effort as if it were a great big mighty steam railroad engine in a station ready to go, boilers burning, ready to start its journey down a track. And I'd be the first to tell you I cannot predict every twist and turn in that track. But I do say unreservedly, take the hands off the brake, let the train start.

NAYLOR: Of course, opponents hope to derail Senator Warner's locomotive. Their argument: It will raise energy prices and cost the economy trillions of dollars in lost economic growth. Many Republicans quoted from a Wall Street Journal editorial yesterday, calling the measure the largest income redistribution scheme since the income tax. Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): At a time when Americans are struggling to pay their bills and when the price of gas seems to be rising higher and higher every day, the majority is showing itself to be laughably out of touch by moving to a bill that would raise the price of gas even higher.

NAYLOR: Republicans argue the bill makes no allowance for emissions from countries such as India and China, whose fast growing economies are producing their own greenhouse gases. Republican Senator Christopher Bond of Missouri said the bill favors some regions of the U.S. at the expense of others.

Senator CHRISTOPHER BOND (Republican, Missouri): The pain will be focused primarily on a codependent manufacturing job heavy Midwest, South and Great Plains.

NAYLOR: President Bush weighed in against the measure, and the White House says he'll veto the climate change bill if it reaches his desk. But in many ways, the Senate debate is about setting the stage for the next administration. Both Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton support the measure.

The Republican's presumptive presidential nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, has long been a proponent of steps to reduce greenhouse gases. But he said he wants more in the bill to encourage use of nuclear energy. His ally, Connecticut Independent Democrat Joseph Lieberman, a cosponsor of the measure, says he's confident McCain will come around.

Senator JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): He'll have the final decision, but he's been part of this from the very beginning. And I expect at the end of this, when a critical vote appears, he'll be with us.

NAYLOR: Senator Warner says he intends to offer an amendment that would encourage nuclear energy research and job training. The House, meanwhile, is working on its own climate change legislation and is likely to hold hearings later this month on a different approach: a carbon tax.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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