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Climate Control Debate Heats Up in the Senate

Richard Cowan

US Senator Barbara Boxer of California (L) listens to Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts during a rally calling for action to address the challenge of global warming in 2008. Boxer and Kerry were Wednesday unveiled a draft of their climate change bill on Wednesday that called for 20% reductions in carbon emissions by 2020. The 20 percent reduction by 2020 is "nowhere near what a fair U.S. contribution to a global emissions reductions should be to avert climate catastrophe," said Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica. (AFP/Getty Images/File/Alex Wong)

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama's
drive to fight global warming got a boost on Wednesday as Democrats in
the U.S. Senate unveiled a bill aimed at slashing greenhouse gas
emissions in the next four decades.

The plan aims to cut carbon dioxide and other pollutants by
encouraging broader use of solar, wind and other renewable fuels in
place of dirtier ones such as oil.

It also would invest U.S. funds in finding cleaner ways to burn coal and other fuels.

Written by liberal Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry, the
proposal would achieve a 20 percent reduction in smokestack emissions
by 2020 from 2005 levels.

That is greater than the 17 percent cut set in a bill passed by the
House of Representatives but less than what the European Union says it
will achieve.

Obama applauded the bill, saying "we are one step closer to putting
America in control of our energy future and making America more energy

It is not clear whether the full Senate will have time to debate and
pass the bill before global climate change talks in Copenhagen in

The hard political road ahead was evident on Capitol Hill, where
Boxer, Kerry and other senators held a rally to promote the legislation
and not a single Republican joined them.

Even some Democrats were quick to criticize.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, who represents the coal-producing state of
West Virginia, called the proposal a step in the wrong direction with
goals that are "unrealistic and harmful."

Rockefeller, as chairman of the Senate Commerce panel, will have a role in shaping the legislation.

Kerry, in a telephone interview with Reuters, said "stay tuned" for
some Republicans to announce their support of the bill as more details
are filled in.

But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell gave no indication his
party would cooperate on climate change any more than it has helped
Democrats in the long fight over healthcare reform.

"The last thing American families need right now is to be hit with a
new energy tax every time they flip on a light switch, or fill up their
car -- but that's exactly what this bill would do," McConnell said.

Instead of mandating reductions in carbon emissions, many
Republicans want a bill that would encourage more U.S. oil and gas
production, something that would do nothing to combat global warming.
They also want to foster alternative energy use, especially nuclear
power, which would cut harmful emissions.


Like the bill passed in the House in June, the 800-page Boxer-Kerry
measure would establish a "cap-and-trade" system for replacing fossil
fuels with alternative energies to power factories and produce

Besides weaning the United States off of foreign oil and creating
domestic energy jobs in the drive to head off the effects of global
warming, the measure would enhance U.S. national security, Democrats

"We don't need to be sending billions of dollars overseas, some of
which finds its way to support jihadists; terrorists of various
countries," Kerry said.

Even without any curbs being imposed, U.S. carbon emissions are
expected to fall 6 percent this year from last year, as electricity
demand falls in the recession-hit economy. That would be 8.8 percent
lower than in 2005, which is the base year under the U.S.
emissions-cutting program.

Many U.S. environmental groups joined Obama in welcoming the Senate
Democrats' bill, but some said it would not take enough carbon out of
the air.

The 20 percent reduction by 2020 is "nowhere near what a fair U.S.
contribution to a global emissions reductions should be to avert
climate catastrophe," said Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica.

American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard predicted the
legislation would make gasoline prices shoot up to as much as $5 per
gallon, about twice their current level.

Governors of U.S. states, meeting in Los Angeles to coordinate
regional climate change action, praised the Senate's work. California
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger warned of "pushback" from global warming

"For them it's more important to keep going and polluting the world
and just making some money, rather than cleaning the world," he said.

Additional reporting by Tom Doggett and Peter Henderson

Editing by Xavier Briand

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