Baucus balks at climate change legislation

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A key Democratic senator said Tuesday that he could not support the Senate’s global warming bill in its current form, even as President Obama praised the legislation and Democrats moved to push it through committee.

Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, said at the start of a series of hearings in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that he had “serious reservations” about the climate change bill’s target of a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. He also said the bill should not allow the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions.

Mr. Baucus, who also chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, became the first Democrat on the panel to object to the bill, which was released Friday in revised form by committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, California Democrat.

The Senate bill is stricter than a companion climate bill narrowly passed by the House in June. The House bill requires large carbon dioxide emitters, primarily power plants and factories, to reduce emissions by 17 percent by 2020. The House bill would also bar the EPA from regulating carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Both bills call for the same long-term goal: a reduction in emissions of about 80 percent by 2050, achieved through a “cap-and-trade” system. The system could mandate reductions based on declining annual emissions limits and require polluters to obtain permits through a government auction or from other polluters.

Mr. Baucus’ Senate Finance Committee is expected to write its own bill covering the distribution of free emissions permits in the bill’s early years, a move intended to insulate consumers, small businesses and farmers from many of the higher energy prices resulting from the legislation.

Mrs. Boxer said that Mr. Baucus told her Friday that he could not back the bill in its current form. Still, she expressed hope that recent declines in U.S. emission levels caused by the economic recession of as much as 8 percent since 2005 would make the 2020 target more palatable for Mr. Baucus and other bill critics.

Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who co-wrote the legislation with Mrs. Boxer, would not rule out altering the bill’s EPA provisions to meet Mr. Baucus’ objections, while standing firm on the 2020 reduction target.

“If people come to us and say they’re willing to vote for the bill if it’s not there, I’ll listen to them,” he said.

Mr. Obama has called the cap-and-trade climate legislation “critical” to making renewable energy profitable.

Three Cabinet secretaries and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson appeared before Mrs. Boxer’s committee Tuesday to lend their support for a comprehensive climate and energy bill, despite Republican criticisms that the climate bill would impose huge new expenses on the U.S. economy and do little to curb global warming.

Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe, the committee’s ranking Republican, warned the bill would cost far more than the roughly $100 annually per household estimated by EPA. He put the total annual cost to the economy from the climate change bill at between $300 billion and $400 billion.

“That’s something that the American people can’t tolerate and I don’t believe they will,” Mr. Inhofe said.

Ms. Jackson said that while EPA was moving to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, she and Mr. Obama still backed legislation as the preferable approach. She said the Kerry-Boxer bill was similar enough to the House-passed climate bill that it would achieve the same goals: a more efficient domestic economy at a low cost to families - less than 50 cents a day.

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