Senate Democrats Push for Climate Bill Ahead of Copenhagen

Barack Obama speaks during a visit to Florida Power and Light's Desoto Next Generation Solar Energy Centre. (Photo: Steve Nesius/AO)

Senate Democrats Push for Climate Bill Ahead of Copenhagen

Obama administration warns of cost of inaction • Move met with opposition from Baucus and Inhofe

The epic confrontation about how America will power the economy of
the future formally got underway today amid stark warnings from the Obama administration of the costs of inaction on energy reform.

hearing, the first of three blockbuster sessions in the Senate, marks a
last heave by administration officials and Democratic leaders to
advance a bill to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions before an international climate change meeting at Copenhagen, now just six weeks away.

were met with strong opposition from a powerful Democrat as well as
Republicans on the environment and public works committee.

With the clock running down to Copenhagen,
the administration wheeled out four top officials to make the case that
failure to act now on climate change would relegate America to lower
tier status in the global economy. "When the starting gun sounded on
the clean energy race, the United States
stumbled," Steven Chu, the energy secretary, told the environment and
public works committee. "If we don't choose to begin the development of
this new technology, China and other countries will."

legislation on climate change is seen as essential to reaching a
meaningful deal at Copenhagen. But the White House held up action in
the Senate on a climate change bill to focus on healthcare reform. The
proposed law, which now stretches for more than 900 pages, would cut
America's greenhouse gas emissions by 20% over 2005 levels by 2020 and
encourage the development of renewable energy sources like wind and
solar power. Democratic leaders in the Senate are now struggling to
advance a bill - which does not have solid support even among their own
party - before the meeting in Copenhagen.

In an ominous sign for
those prospects, Max Baucus, who ranks second on the environment
committee and chairs the finance committee which will also review the
bill, said the proposed 20% reduction target was too steep. "I have
some concerns about the overall direction of the bill," he said. "We
cannot afford the unmitigated impacts of climate change but we also
cannot afford the unmitigated effects of legislation."

For weeks,
the White House, Democrats, and environmental organisations have
lobbied hard to frame the bill as an economic opportunity.

picked up the theme again in a visit to a solar plant in Florida where
he announced $3.48bn in government grants to projects modernising
America's electrical grid. In introducing the bill today, Barbara Boxer
leaned heavily on an analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency
that showed the shift away from oil and coal would cost just 22 to 30
cents a day.

Global warming isn't waiting for who is a Democrat
or who is a Republican. Either we are going to deal with this problem
or we are not," she said.

John Kerry, who co-wrote the bill with
Boxer, said it would usher in a technological revolution akin to the
rapid growth of the internet in the 1990s. "We are going to create the
equivalent of five or 10 Googles and that is going to drive the economy
of our country," said John Kerry, the former presidential candidate who
is the other co-author of the bill.

But their arguments appeared to make little headway with Republicans on the committee. James Inhofe, the Okalahoma Republican who notoriously declared global warming a hoax, called the bill a "temple of doom" which would cost Americans up to $400bn a year.

Republicans pressed for investment to build 100 new nuclear plants over
the next decade, or to expand offshore oil drilling to meet America's
future energy needs. Others argued that America would be damaging its
own interests if it embarked on costly energy reforms - while emerging
powers like India and China did not.

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