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Warm-up for a global-warming law

Congress to begin work on a bill the next president would be willing to sign.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 1, 2008

During high tides, sea water often partially covers the road on Smith Island in Maryland, due to a combination of rising sea levels and sinking land. As Congress begins work on a new global warming bill, the National Science and Technology Council and the US Climate Change Science program release and assessment that concluded there is already evidence of sea-levl rise.

Andy Nelson - staff/file



Call this week’s global-warming debate in the Senate a marker in the sea change in public opinion on the issue – and a window on what the next Congress may do to curb carbon emissions.

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The top presidential nominees in both parties back a cap-and-trade system to limit US emissions of greenhouse gases. President Bush opposes it, and the White House is expected to detail objections to the 494-page Senate bill on Monday.

While the debate that begins Monday on the Senate floor is unlikely to yield a bill Mr. Bush will sign, it is already realigning prospects for legislating in a new administration.

For Republicans, who face dim prospects in November congressional elections, the bill offers an opportunity to get behind their probable presidential nominee. Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona was an early and outspoken voice for mandatory emission-reduction targets and timetables. Other Republican lawmakers remain adamantly opposed to a big federal role.

For Democrats, it’s a high-profile occasion to target Republican lawmakers who vote against an issue that has been gaining favor with the public and with a widening coalition of business, labor union, and public-interest groups.

“The political landscape on global warming has dramatically changed,” says Jeremy Symons, a spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). “We’ve never had union support in the past or this depth of support from business and faith groups,” he adds, citing a letter last week endorsing the bill signed by Alcoa, General Electric, and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, as well as the NWF, Trout Unlimited, and the Interfaith Power and Light Campaign.

The Senate bill would mandate that US emissions of greenhouse gases be cut to 19 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and up to 71 percent by 2050. The bill also proposes a $800 billion “tax relief fund” over the next four decades to help Americans pay energy bills.

“Senators have come together across party lines to write a law that will not only enable us to avoid the ravages of unchecked global warming, but will create millions of new jobs and put us on the path to energy independence,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California, in the Democratic response to Bush’s weekly radio address on Saturday.

Senator Boxer, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, is presenting an amended version of a bill first sponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut and John Warner (R) of Virginia.

The bill proposes establishing a trading system for carbon-emission credits that supporters say will give companies a market incentive to reduce greenhouse gases. Critics say it creates a vast new federal bureaucracy at a high cost to the US economy and taxpayers.