Critiques of a climate bill

A proposed climate act would require mandatory emissions caps, but reviews are mixed.

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Two US senators, Connecticut Independent Joseph Lieberman and Virginia Republican John Warner, have launched major legislation on climate change that sets a marker for Congress and directly challenges the Bush administration.

America's Climate Security Act, as it's called, would set greenhouse-gas limits on about 75 percent of the US economy by creating caps on emissions from the electric power, transportation, and manufacturing industries. Emissions would have to be cut to 1990 levels by 2020, then to about 62 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

As the Environmental News Service reported:

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"With all the irrefutable evidence we now have corroborating that climate change is real, dangerous, and proceeding faster than many scientists predicted, this is the year for Congress to move this critical legislation," said Senator Lieberman, who chairs a Senate Environment and Public Works global-warming subcommittee.

Senator Warner acknowledges the likely burden on industry and taxpayers. But he says the Bush administration's call for voluntary rather than mandatory cuts would not be enough to meet the threat of global warming. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he said:

"[W]e feel voluntary [steps] will not achieve the goals, the leadership that the United States of America simply must take ... to join the other nations of the world."

The Lieberman-Warner proposal is getting mixed reviews. Carol Browner, head of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration, lauds the bill for providing clear requirements, deadlines, and lack of ambiguity that could delay or lead to undercuts. But, according to the Center for American Progress online, Ms. Browner adds:

"The bill does not ensure the development of the carbon capture-and-sequestration technology vital to the reduction of emissions from new coal-fired power plants."

Four liberal groups – the Sierra Club, the US Public Interest Research Group, the National Audubon Society, and Physicians for Social Responsibility – applaud Lieberman and Warner "for putting forward a bill that has helped to jumpstart meaningful congressional debate on the issue."

But the environmental group Friends of the Earth says the bill "remains a disappointment." Referring to the bill's cap-and-trade provision, Friends of the Earth president Brent Blackwelder said in a statement, "… polluters will be rewarded with pollution permits worth tens or hundreds of billions of dollars or more."

According to the Friends of the Earth press release, he says:

"The bill apparently abdicates US moral responsibility by failing to provide funding to help the world's most impoverished people adapt to climate-related food, water, and health ... impacts that the United States has helped cause."

The Washington Post editorialized that "a carbon tax would be more straightforward" than the Lieberman-Warner scheme for reducing greenhouse gases. According to the editorial:

"With cap-and-trade, there's potential for games, fraud, evasion, and abuse. But ... it would give industry and the American people time to transition to the greener reality they're facing. It would allow the government to set a goal for total emissions. It could fit into an international market. Most of all, it's politically more plausible."

Many industry sources worry about the impact of the bill. "Based upon our initial analysis, the Lieberman-Warner bill would still result in an all-cost, no-benefit scenario for American consumers and businesses, ultimately hurting most those who can afford it the least," says Charles Drevna, executive vice president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA) on the NPRA website. He continues:

"Proposals to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions should not have the effect of transferring American jobs, and consequently industrial emissions, to other countries."

The push for legislation gained urgency this week with a new study finding that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing faster than expected because of growing industrial use of fossil fuels, plus a decline in the gas absorbed by Earth's oceans and land surface.

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