RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We turn now to a debate on climate change that certainly raised the temperature at a Senate hearing yesterday. Supporters of the bill predicted apocalyptic consequences if it does not pass. Opponents predicted dire consequences if it did.
NPR's Christopher Joyce has the story on the hearing at the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: The Senate's version of a climate bill — the House already passed its own months ago - tops 900 pages and would put an extra price on fuel that emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It would remake the energy economy, but whether for better or worse lies in the eye of the beholder. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the bill's co-sponsor, testified first before the committee and set the tone for the Democrats by invoking the J-word.
Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): We will create millions of jobs, new jobs, jobs that cannot be exported, because we will create our energy here at home.
JOYCE: The idea is that making fossil fuels more expensive will curb warming and create a gigantic green job market in solar power, wind, biomass and other forms of green energy, energy that does not emit significant greenhouse gases.
When Republicans on the committee described the bill, however, they use the T-word. Here's Senator Kit Bond from Missouri…
Senator KIT BOND (Republican, Missouri): The businesses that will be hit with this high carbon tax will pass along these higher prices, which are disguised taxes, to every family, every small business, every farm in the United States.
JOYCE: And so it went for two days: the Democrats insisting that green energy means jobs; the Republicans invoking the specter of a new form of tax, a carbon tax that would deep-six the fossil fuel industry and kill millions of American jobs.
At one point, several members had their staff hold up placards with tables and charts in a visual battle of numbers, including committee chair Barbara Boxer of California.
Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): Since you held up a chart, we're going to have our little chart wars today — you hold up one, we hold up one. It's kind of equal time.
JOYCE: The competitive statistics got the best of one witness. Bill Klesse, chairman of the refining company Valero Energy Corporation, is an opponent of the bill and said it would cost refiners, and eventually consumers, an astonishing $850 billion a year just in California.
Mr. BILL KLEESE (Valero Energy Corporation): Madam Chair, if I can…
Sen. BOXER: Thank you.
Mr. KLEESE: …correct, I need to correct, my people tell me I said billions and it's $850 million a year.
Sen. BOXER: That's a big difference.
Mr. KLEESE: It's only a few zeroes.
JOYCE: Meanwhile, the overwhelming scientific evidence for the dangers of climate change didn't come up much, which led one exasperated committee member, Democrat Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey, to appeal to the world outside of Washington.
Senator FRANK LAUTENBERG (Democrat, New Jersey): America, wake up, wake up; your kids are in danger.
JOYCE: But even whether Americans care about climate change was a point of contention. Both sides dueled with opinion polls, saying the public either does or does not care about climate change, or does a little, but not enough to actually spend the money on it.
Some witnesses did testify about the danger climate change poses to America's national security and to things like forests, wildlife, agriculture and beachfront property. But it's money and jobs that have driven the debate so far, which probably explains why Democrats who wrote the legislation named it the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.
Hearings continue today. In all, almost 60 witnesses are scheduled over three days.
Christopher Joyce, NPR News.
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