Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Senate yesterday rejected far-reaching global-warming mandates to curb carbon-dioxide gas emissions, but acknowledged a link between rising temperatures and so-called greenhouse gases.

In two votes — the 60-38 defeat of a watered-down version of the Kyoto international climate-control treaty and a 54-43 vote in favor of a resolution endorsing scientific explanations of climate change — senators respected the wishes of President Bush to allow for more research but sent a message to him that further inaction would be a mistake.

The two senators who introduced the policy amendment — John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat — conceded the vote before it even took place.

“We lost some people, three or four I believe, and I think people in my own party were scared to death of the word ‘nuclear,’ ” Mr. Lieberman said.

The Climate Stewardship Act would have called for emissions trading, allowing coal plants performing below emissions standards to pay a penalty fee or trade with others that are exceeding goals. It would have provided other incentives to develop alternative-energy sources such as solar, nuclear and integrated-coal-combined-cycle technologies or coal recycling, as well as more efficient products and vehicles and alternative fuels.

Opponents said the energy bill already contains such provisions, like a renewable-fuels standard; funding for clean diesel, biodiesel and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles; and numerous incentives and subsidies without mandating a set emissions standard that is “arbitrary” and “impossible” to attain.

Defeat of the stewardship measure reflected the Senate’s continued opposition to the international mandates called for under the Kyoto global-warming treaty.

“Kyoto is unachievable; and if you look at the numbers it is impossible; and it is easy to see why the Senate voted against signing the Kyoto Protocol 95-0,” said Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, referring to the 1997 vote urging President Clinton and future executives not to sign the treaty, because it would be too economically damaging.

“The reason this bill can’t be passed is because it can’t be implemented; nobody knows how to do it, you can’t do it, and nobody who has looked at it has said it can be done,” said Mr. Domenici, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

He said he does accept that “global warming is a problem” and promised to work to find other solutions.

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, argued for action on global warming, saying studies prove that “98 percent” of carbon-dioxide emissions are energy-related.

“This climate change is a huge issue for island states and nations because of the phenomenon of sea levels rising, and a relatively small investment today is far wiser than spending vast amounts in the future to restore ecosystems, agriculture and infrastructure,” Mr. Akaka said. “We cannot wait for the perfect legislative proposal to coincide with the perfect political will; the time to act on carbon is now.”

Later last night, the Senate rejected on a 49-46 vote a nonbinding proposal from Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, that the U.S. engage in international talks on climate change.

While the Senate continued its debate, Mr. Bush was touting his plan for more nuclear energy and again stressed the importance of passing a long-term national energy policy.

“It is time for this country to start building nuclear power plants again,” Mr. Bush said at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Maryland. “There is a growing consensus that more nuclear power will lead to a cleaner, safer nation.”

The energy bill, if passed, will provide federal risk insurance to firms that build the next four nuclear plants. No nuclear plants have been built in the United States since the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island in eastern Pennsylvania.

Although nuclear power emits no air pollution — “which takes care of the global warming problem by itself,” said Sen. Larry E. Craig — environmentalists slammed the president’s call for additional plants.

“The Bush administration and its allies in Congress have painted a glowing picture of nuclear power to justify billions of dollars in new taxpayer subsidies for the industry,” said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. “In reality, nuclear power poses a major security risk and produces a radioactive waste, which we have no way to store safely over the long term.”

Mr. Craig, Idaho Republican, whose state houses nuclear waste, said the new method would be to build new plants in remote locations and store the waste on-site in concrete slabs.

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