- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

About the only certainty in this year’s global-warming debate is that a bill won’t pass Congress.

The Senate on Monday kicks off what some are calling the biggest environmental debate ever, with Democrats unsure of their strategy, Republicans itching for an all-out fight, and interest groups studying every move for clues about to plot strategy for the next time, when they expect to be playing for real.

“It will put us in position to have action next year,” said David Doniger, policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate Center, who said in a preview briefing last week that he would like to see a law this year but doubts it will happen.

The bill is just one of many Congress must finish by the time lawmakers break for the elections; others include funding for the Iraq war and the annual spending bills that keep the government running. This weekend, President Bush also told Congress to confirm more of his judicial nominees, pass a bill authorizing undocumented wiretaps, and accept free trade agreements his administration has negotiated.

But with gas prices at record highs, the global-warming debate could be the most contentious issue.

The debate centers on a bill written by Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, that takes a cap-and-trade approach: The government sets a total carbon-dioxide emissions limit, then auctions off allowances for emissions, which can then be traded. That harnesses the free market to allow those companies that can easily reduce emissions to do so, and sell their allowances to companies having a tougher time.

Among the key questions are whether to ease the caps if new technology to reduce emissions doesn’t develop fast enough; whether to give away or auction off allowances, and what to do with the money from an auction; and how to account for the growth of emissions from India and China, which on their current trajectory could swamp any cuts the U.S. might achieve, thus eliminating the benefits to the environment.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has not decided whether Republicans will be allowed to offer all of their amendments on those and other issues, nor has he decided how long the debate will last.

“We’re looking forward to a full, robust debate, but no decisions have been made about time,” Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau said.

Most Republican lawmakers, increasingly confident in their stance on the issue, say they expect Mr. Reid to severely limit the debate.

The last time Congress had a major environmental debate on ozone depletion and air pollution it lasted five weeks on the Senate floor. Republicans have dozens of amendments prepared and said if Mr. Reid doesn’t allow votes for many of them it will prove he didn’t want this debate in the first place.

“Senator Reid wanted us to kill this bill. Now he knows we’re going to get on the bill, he doesn’t know what to do,” said one senior Republican Senate aide who has been following the bill.

In Democrats’ weekly radio response Saturday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat and chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the science on humans’ effect on the climate is settled. She ridiculed those who still doubt it.

“These are the same kind of voices who said that the world was flat, cigarettes were safe and cars didn’t need air bags - long after the rest of us knew the truth. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of scientists say that the Earth is in peril if we don´t act now,” she said.

But if a consensus has developed on the science, agreement on the right solution seems further away than ever, as senators hear from major constituents and campaign contributors back home about how damaging the bill could be to their economies.

Even some stalwart liberal Democrats such as Sen. Sherrod Brown, a freshman senator from Ohio, have said they won’t be able to support the bill because of its costs.

The House has been mired in its own divisions, born out of the multiheaded system House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set up last year to produce action. She created a special global-warming committee, led by Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, to study the issue, but also left jurisdiction in place for the Energy and Commerce Committee, run by Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat.

They come at the issue from different sides, with Mr. Dingell’s committee producing a substantial amount of research about the costs of action and Mr. Markey last week announcing his own, far-reaching cap-and-trade bill.

He said his bill would return half of the money from auctions back to lower-income households, and would use other money to retrain workers who lose jobs because of the bill’s strictures.

“The business community that has been polluting has to accept the responsibility that it’s a price that is being paid by the society as a whole,” Mr. Markey said.

The environmentalists are looking at a better political situation next year, with all three remaining major presidential candidates in favor of a cap-and-trade approach.

But Republicans’ presumed presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, has said he needs to see more subsidies for nuclear energy to support the bill, worrying the bill’s supporters.

“Senator McCain has a responsibility to lead other members of his party to strengthen and support this vital legislation,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservative Voters. “To oppose this bill, or worse, to do nothing to improve it, proves that his ‘straight talk’ on global warming is easily bent.”



Click to Read More

Click to Hide