Senate Unveils Plan To Reduce Emissions California Sen. Barbara Boxer unveils a bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent to help slow climate change. The plan uses a cap and trade system and would rework the nation's energy economy.
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Senate Unveils Plan To Reduce Emissions

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Senate Unveils Plan To Reduce Emissions

Senate Unveils Plan To Reduce Emissions

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Although health care overhaul is the main draw in Congress these days, there is 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 bill the House of Representatives passed last June.

Today, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer unveils the measure, which will do nothing less than remake the entire energy economy of the country. To discuss the Senate's efforts, we turned to NPR's Christopher Joyce. Good morning.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Chris, to start with, why now? Especially since Congress is so wrapped up in health care legislation.

JOYCE: It's been on President Obama's agenda since the days when he was campaigning for president, and it was introduced into the House. The House spent months on this thing doubling in size, adding all sorts of things to make it palatable. And the Senate took it up and then had to put it off because of health care.

And in the meantime, there's a lot of pressure to get something done. There's the court rulings saying that the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, can actually regulate greenhouse gases, and people really don't want that to happen. They want Congress to come up with something legislative.

MONTAGNE: Okay. Well, then, tell us what's in the bill and how it differs from the House version.

JOYCE: It's a cap-and-trade bill, the way the House bill was - cap-and-trade meaning there's an emissions cap over the whole country, so so much greenhouse gases can be emitted and no more. And if you live within your cap, you can trade whatever you have extra, buy and sell it to other people who are also limited.

Beyond that, not a lot's come out of Barbara Boxer's office on this. She's the lead on this. She does want to make it a little tougher than the House version.

They way it works is they set an emissions cap based on what was emitted by the country in 2005. And they've said, okay, over the next 10 years, we've got to bring that down 17 percent. She wants to make it tougher. She wants to make it 20 percent, which may not sound like a lot of difference, but each percentage point in these emissions limits is a battleground.

There are also what's called allocations. Every industry gets a certain percentage of all these permits to emit greenhouse gases. For example, the utility industry is getting 35 percent of all the free allocations. They say, hey, we need more. We emit 40 percent of the greenhouse gases. We need 40 percent of the permits. So there's going to be a lot of haggling over that.

MONTAGNE: And the other sticking points?

JOYCE: Well, the Senate's a bit different from the House. In the House, you have a lot of people from urban areas. In the Senate, everybody has farm interests. So the farm interests are going to be very interested in what they're going get out of this. And they're also worried about the financial sector. All these permits become part of a big financial scheme or scam, if you will, and they're worried about the sort of subprime mortgage of the carbon market happening.

MONTAGNE: Okay. Now come December, there's a global conference on climate change. It'll held in Copenhagen, Denmark. Is there a big rush to get something done by then?

JOYCE: There is, from supporters and people who said, look, we really don't want to go empty-handed to Copenhagen. We'd like to go with some evidence that we're actually going to join the rest of world and have some hard, vast limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Others in the Senate are saying, look, we work on our own agenda. We don't have to do this just to make other people happy. We need to do this right. It's going to be very difficult, complicated and expensive. Let's not be held to an artificial time limit. So this could go on till next year.

MONTAGNE: Well, what about the timing, generally? It's a bad time for the economy. We're talking about the remaking here, the energy economy itself, which is huge. Does the bill have a chance?

JOYCE: It has a chance. Obviously, it passed in the House, it could pass in the Senate. Certainly, there are a lot of people to placate here. The Republicans are generally, as a bloc, opposed to the complicated and - what they say -expensive nature of it. But then, there's a bit of a Damocles sword hanging over, which is that if there's not a bill from Congress, that it could be very likely that the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the federal government will simply do it by regulation, limiting greenhouse gases, and pretty much nobody wants that.

MONTAGNE: Chris, thanks very much.

JOYCE: You're welcome.

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