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Senate warms to a climate policy

Even though legislation fell to defeat, Friday’s debate marked the first time a majority backed a cap on carbon emissions.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 8, 2008

Backers: Democratic Sens. John Kerry and Barbara Boxer on Capitol Hill last week before the climate-change bill went to the Senate floor.

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Washington

Although the first global-warming bill that ever made it to a floor vote on Capitol Hill was defeated Friday, the legislation is setting a marker for action in a new Congress.

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Last week's Senate debate also marks the first time a majority of senators – backed by a broad coalition of business, labor, environmental, and religious groups – publicly endorsed a cap on carbon emissions.

"The big change is the sense of inevitability of climate-change legislation," says Brendan Bell, Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a leading nonprofit environmental group. "This is the beginning of the US crafting its climate-change policy, and a lot of the disagreements and the frustrations were based on the mechanisms of the program and not disputes over the science."

Both leading presidential contenders favor mandating reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona favors a 60 percent reduction by 2050, with strong incentives for nuclear power. Sen. Barack Obama (D) of Illinois calls for an 80 percent reduction, but balks at shifting to nuclear power until a solution is found to waste disposal.

The Senate bill split the difference: It proposed reducing greenhouse-gas emissions 70 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. At the heart of the plan is a system to trade emissions permits to meet the cap and a consumer tax relief fund to ease the impact on American families.

"This is a landmark day," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee after the 48-to-36 vote on Friday. In addition to the 48 senators voting to move forward on the global-warming bill, six absent senators sent letters expressing support.

Together, the vote and letters mark the first time a majority of the US Senate has endorsed mandatory action on global warming. "The Clean Air Act took 10 years. This will not take 10 years," Senator Boxer said.

"I think people around the world are going to be greatly encouraged by the fact that 54 members of the United States Senate said they want to support a response to global warming – a real mandatory response," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, who, with Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia, is a cosponsor of the bill. Sixty votes were needed to ensure a final vote on the bill.

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