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Senate debates climate bill cost

By ROSALIE WESTENSKOW, UPI Correspondent   |   June 3, 2008 at 10:32 AM   |   Comments

THE DALLES, Ore., June 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate launched into a battle Monday over the most comprehensive climate change legislation ever considered by the body.

After the opening debate, senators voted 74-14 to invoke cloture on the bill, preventing a Republican filibuster and limiting the coming debate to 30 hours. The most controversial aspect of the bill is its economic impact -- a figure the two sides hotly debated Monday.

The Climate Security Act attempts to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by establishing a national cap-and-trade system. Under the legislation, which would go into force in 2012, total emissions would be capped at a certain level each year, decreasing incrementally over time. The Environmental Protection Agency would allocate some emissions allowances and auction others to businesses and facilities, including those in the electric power and industrial sectors.

Businesses could buy additional permits, allowing them to emit more, from entities that had cut their emissions below their allotted share. Proceeds from auctioned allowances would go to clean energy technology development.

Proponents of the bill herald its tough stance on climate change, including cutting U.S. carbon dioxide emissions 71 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

"If it passes, it will be the strongest climate change bill in the world," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., sponsor of the bill, along with Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn, and John Warner, R-Va. "Today is a day to say 'yes' to clean energy, 'yes' to jobs, 'yes' to science, 'yes' to energy independence."

But opponents, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argue the bill will push already high energy prices through the roof.

"If passed, it would have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy," McConnell said Monday on the Senate floor. "It is, at its heart, a stealth and giant tax on virtually every aspect of industrial and consumer life."

The bill could result in price increases of $2.8 trillion by 2030 for the gas and power sectors, according to a study conducted by Wood Mackenzie, an international energy research and consulting firm.

Prices would rise for natural gas, in particular, because the legislation would force industry to use natural gas as an alternative to coal, increasing demand for the resource, said William Durbin, head of global gas and power research at Wood Mackenzie.

"Currently, natural gas prices are in the $7 to $8 per million British thermal units range," Durbin told United Press International. "The extra demand from the power sector is going to add $3 to $4 MMBtu, and then the (cost of buying) allowances will add an additional $3 to $5 per MMBtu."

These costs, as well as any others caused by the bill, would likely be passed onto consumers, said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Miss.

"This would roll down on the consumers," he said. "They're the ones who'll pay for it through energy prices."

But proponents of the bill say that's not true. Energy prices have been rising astronomically precisely because the United States lacks incentives to produce clean energy -- a problem the Lieberman-Warner bill addresses, Lieberman said at a news conference Monday.

"If the Climate Security Act had passed 10 years ago, we would not be paying $4 plus on gasoline today," said Lieberman, pointing to the 250 percent increase in the cost of gas over the past seven years, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The EIA, in one of its analyses of the bill, projects it would cause an increase of 2 cents per gallon of gasoline per year.

"The American people would be thrilled to have a gas raise of no more than 2 cents per gallon per year," Lieberman said.

In addition to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, proponents of the bill also point to its potentially positive impact on national security. By increasing the use of renewable energy technologies, the bill could decrease imports of foreign oil from unstable areas, such as the Middle East and Venezuela. The bill also could prevent instability in other parts of the world if, by limiting climate change, it decreases the growing number of extreme weather conditions, such as droughts and storms.

Although the connection between the recent devastating cyclone in Myanmar and climate change is unknown, Warner said if storms such as this continued to increase as a result of climate change, it would put the United States at risk.

"It's the United States Navy and other elements of our military that are standing offshore to help," Warner said. "We see it in Africa (too), which is absolutely ravaged by droughts. … They turn to the good old United States for help."

Despite these possible benefits, the White House believes the bill would cause more harm than good, and President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it passes.

One of the administration's main objections to the legislation is its potential to decrease U.S. jobs.

"This bill would really damage our economy," Dana Perino, White House press secretary, said at a briefing Monday. "(It would) threaten jobs to be sent overseas, because if other countries don't have the same types of regulations we do, then entrepreneurs are more likely to site those businesses elsewhere."

This could result in "leakage," whereby U.S. jobs are replaced by jobs in countries without emissions restrictions, such as China or India. This could actually increase total world emissions, even though those in the United States would decrease.

"And so you haven't solved the environmental problem, and you exacerbate an economic problem," Perino said.

However, Senate Democrats say climate change must be addressed now, even if current legislation isn't perfect.

"The one thing we can't afford is delay," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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