LIANE HANSEN, host:
Health insurance reform isn't the only big agenda item on Capitol Hill. The Senate is also considering how the U.S. should contribute to global efforts to fight climate change. A climate change bill squeaks through the House last month. Over the years, the Senate has tried and failed to pass its own measure. Now the question is whether a 60-vote Democratic majority can succeed.
NPR's Audie Cornish has more.
AUDIE CORNISH: Half a dozen Senate committees have jurisdiction over climate change, but California Democrat Barbara Boxer's panel on the environment and public works is taking the lead.
Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): I believe that this committee, when the votes are eventually taken on our bill, will reflect our president's attitude, which is yes we can and yes we will.
CORNISH: But no, they won't finish a draft by the end of the month as originally planned. Democrats have pushed back their self-imposed deadline and now plan a committee vote at the end of September. Boxer will need that time to win over more than a dozen moderate Democrats who are so far reluctant to support something like what the House has approved.
The House climate change bill aims to move the country away from reliance on fossil fuels like coal or oil. The goal is to reduce the overall carbon emissions by 17 percent in a decade and more than 80 percent by mid-century. Those are causes for concern for Democrats like Kent Conrad of North Dakota.
Senator KENT CONRAD (Democrat, North Dakota): You know, I represent a state where 90 percent of the electricity comes from coal. We are also the fifth largest oil and gas producer in the country. And so this legislation, this proportionately affects the people that I represent. And I tell you, I hear about it when I go home.
CORNISH: The Congressional Budget Office says the House legislation would cost, on average, $175 per family per year. But Conrad says coal-dependent states are likely to see higher costs than coastal ones.
Sen. CONRAD: There is a clear consensus that needs to be done to reduce carbon emissions. The question then becomes, how do you do it and is the pain, is the cost fairly distributed?
CORNISH: Meanwhile, that emissions cap of 17 percent has been criticized as too low by environmentalists and their Senate supporters and too high by moderates like Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. She'd like that capped down around 14 percent.
Rust Belt senators like Stabenow also support a House plan to impose tariffs on goods imported from developing countries that failed to cap their emissions. It's an idea that President Obama has warned could be seen as protectionism.
Senator DEBBIE STABENOW (Democrat, Michigan): It's not protectionism to have a fair playing field, and that's all we're asking for.
CORNISH: So, Senate Democrats will need support from some Republicans to pass a bill but most of them have already rejected the centerpiece proposal on carbon emissions, a cap and trade system. The government would set up a market for companies that emit greenhouse gases to buy and trade pollution allowances.
Republican Kit Bond of Missouri plans to take the Senate floor against it nearly every day this coming week.
Senator KIT BOND (Republican, Missouri): Because I think the American people, and certainly my Missouri constituents, deserve to know how the legislation we consider will impose new energy taxes, 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.
CORNISH: Senate Democrats originally hope to have something by the end of the summer, but it looks like they'll be lucky to have something in time for the president to present at the next global climate change summit in December.
Audie Cornish, NPR News, The Capitol.