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Legislation to slow climate change rolled into the Senate this week and ground to a halt. After two days of hearings, Democratic leaders agreed to mothball the measure until September. They blamed a busy schedule of other priorities for the delay. But in its brief moment in the spotlight the climate change bill encountered opposition from Republicans and Democrats.
NPR's Christopher Joyce reports on what it will take to get that measure approved.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: The energy and climate bill started without hefty, a 650-odd page prescription for a new energy economy. When it passed the House of Representatives, it had ballooned to a 1,400 page giant. That's what it seems to take to design a cap-and-trade system. It puts a cap on emissions of greenhouse gases that warm the planet and allows companies the chance to trade permits to emit those gases. In the first day of hearings before the Senate Energy Committee, Republican Kit Bond took the first of many swings at this whole notion.
Senator KIT BOND (Republican, Missouri): And I think the American people and certainly my Missouri constituents deserve to know how the legislation we consider will impose new energy taxes on them, kill their jobs, punish the Midwest and South, help China and India and construct a new bureaucratic nightmare to implement a carbon cap-and-trade program.
JOYCE: The White House had set senior officials to the committee hearing to explain how this would work. But Republican Jim Bunning of Kentucky told them it was a waste of time.
Senator JIM BUNNING (Republican, Kentucky): I have more than once pointed out that any action to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions will be pointless if there aren't similar limits on emissions in China, India, Russia and other countries.
JOYCE: China is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and India isn't far behind. Bunning says if the U.S. limits emissions by itself, prices will rise here, but not abroad, and that will hurt consumers and undercut American business. When the bill encountered these arguments in the House, supporters simply loaded it up with concessions to win over wavering representatives. Provisions to help industry make more ethanol fuel from corn, for example. That kind of deal making has already begun in the Senate. At this week's hearing, GOP Senator Lamar Alexander from Tennessee made it clear what he wanted to see in the bill in his questions to President Obama's energy secretary, Steven Chu.
Senator LAMAR ALEXANDER (Republican, Tennessee): Why don't we have the same level of enthusiasm for nuclear power that we do for wind turbines. What's the reluctance here?
Secretary STEVEN CHU (Department of Energy): Well, actually for me, you're not going to get any reluctance. I, as you may know, I think that nuclear power is going to be a very important factor in getting us to a low carbon future.
JOYCE: For Alexander, it's nuclear power, but every state and its senators has its own energy wish list. There is a legion of lobbyists and advocacy groups keeping track of these lists. Lisa Jacobson is one of them. She's with the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, which represents green companies and favors the bill.
Ms. LISA JACOBSON (Business Council for Sustainable Energy): You know, some states are more resource rich in coal. Others have, are the Saudi Arabia of wind energy or they have strong solar resources.
JOYCE: Jacobson adds that the hobbled economy is also shaping the demands senators are making.
Ms. JACOBSON: Midwestern, senators in particular are very concerned, you know, they're hemorrhaging jobs.
JOYCE: So California Senator Barbara Boxer, the Democrat who's shepherding the bill through the senate is promising that it will subsidize green energy technologies and thereby create new jobs. Lobbyists and energy analysts calculate that about two dozen senators are on the fence right now. Bill supporters say they'll need to capture over half of them to get the votes to pass the bill. With the postponement, they'll have the rest of the summer to try.
Christopher Joyce, NPR News
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