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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Climate Bill Under Fire

Air Date: Week of

Senators Lieberman and Warner drafted this session's climate change bill. (Courtesy of the U.S. Congress)

The leading global warming bill in Congress is coming under fire from some who support action on climate change. Some environmental groups say the bill is too weak. And at least one candidate for president wants to make the bill boost nuclear power. Washington correspondent Jeff Young reports on the climate bill's steep climb up Capitol Hill.


GELLERMAN: This June, the U.S. Senate is slated to vote on a major global warming bill designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The bill relies on a cap and trade system to limit carbon dioxide, and its lead sponsors in the Senate – Independent Joe Lieberman and Republican John Warner – say they’re picking up more and more supporters. But the opposition is also growing – even some lawmakers who say they want to see action on climate change don’t like this bill. So, as Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports, the legislation faces a steep climb up Capitol Hill.

YOUNG: Virginia’s stately Senator John Warner is stepping down after 30 years in office. Before retiring to his prize-winning sunflower garden he has one last item on his to-do list, and it’s a doozy: cutting the country’s greenhouse gases.

His bill aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from across the economy so that by mid-century the U.S. would put out about 70 percent less CO2 than it did in 1990. Warner’s Senate colleagues want to know what that’s going to cost.

Senator and presidential candidate John McCain wants the Lieberman-Warner climate bill to provide support for nuclear power. (Photo: Jennifer Stevens)

WARNER: It’s just not the Republicans; all are concerned about what is the impact at the gas pump when you fill up your car. What is the impact in trying to heat your house? Now, you get right down to consumer level and that’s big votes.

YOUNG: Warner’s bill has a lot of provisions to soften the blow: things like assistance for low-income consumers and home energy efficiency programs. And the bill’s cap and trade system would allow companies to buy and sell the rights to emit CO2. That’s generally viewed as a market-friendly approach. Warner’s partner, Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman, says that the trading system will have independent oversight to avoid the mistakes that made Europe’s carbon trade open to market manipulation.

LIEBERMAN: This is very important and it will involve a lot of money. And there was some profiteering and speculating in early European experience, which we don’t want to have happen here.

YOUNG: The bill faces stiff opposition from the National Chamber of Commerce and Manufacturers Association, who say the carbon cap will cost too much and kill jobs. Lieberman says economic analysis shows the bill’s costs are manageable. And he says Senate support for the bill is getting close to 60 – that’s the magic number needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. However, as he left a recent press conference, Lieberman told me that he does not yet have the support of one of his closest climate allies in the Senate – the man he supports for president – John McCain.

YOUNG (to Lieberman): You think you’re near 60 votes. Do you happen to know is Senator McCain among them?

LIEBERMAN: He has a single issue, which we’ve talked about, which is to include some support for nuclear energy as a solution to the global warming problem. We’re working on such language. I’m totally confident that we will have an agreement, and that Senator McCain will support this legislation, because he’s been a leader in the battle to do something about global warming here in

YOUNG: But he’s not yet firmly in the aye column?

LIEBERMAN: (chuckles) I think I gotta leave the exact answer to him. I can tell you this – he really wants to vote for this legislation.

YOUNG: McCain is a vocal proponent of nuclear power, as he told New Hampshire voters on the campaign trail in January.

MCCAIN: One of the tings I think we need to do is expand and reemphasize the need for nuclear power. I believe that nuclear power works. I believe that it is viable.

YOUNG: A nuclear power provision in the global warming bill would bring McCain on board, but it could cause others to jump ship. McCain and Lieberman partnered on another climate bill three years ago. When they added to it subsidies for nuclear power, they lost the support of four Senators and the major environmental groups.

Senator Barbara Boxer chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. (Courtesy of U.S. Congress)

Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope warns against any similar amendments to the Warner-Lieberman bill that would put tax money toward nuclear power.

POPE: Oh, I have a wonderful nuclear amendment I would really like to see; I would like a nuclear amendment that says ‘anybody who wants to build a nuclear power plant will do it with their own money, instead of yours and mine.’ The first man who comes into my office and says ‘I want to build a nuclear power plant with my own shareholder’s money,’ I will give him a big hug and I will say, ‘God bless you, they must have a lot!’

YOUNG: Pope and about a dozen other environmental leaders recently lined up behind California’s Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer at a press event. Boxer’s made passing the Warner-Lieberman bill her top priority as chair of the Senate’s environment committee, and she wanted a strong show of support.

BOXER: I think there are rumors circulating that the environmentalists are all over the map on this. That is not true. The environmental organizations are united. They want a necessary strong bill.

YOUNG: But some environmental groups oppose the bill. The group Friends of the Earth ran ads attacking Warner-Lieberman for giving away carbon emission permits to the coal power industry instead of auctioning them off. Greenpeace executive director John Passacantando says the bill would not achieve the cuts in greenhouse gases that most climate scientists say are needed.

Senators Lieberman and Warner drafted what they hope will become America's Climate Security Act. (Courtesy of the U.S. Congress)

PASSACANTANDO: And yet, with Warner-Lieberman, we’re starting with a very compromised legislation that’s primarily massive giveaways to industry and actually doesn’t go far enough to solve what the scientists say will be catastrophic climate change. Greenpeace can’t support that.

YOUNG: So the leading global warming bill faces grumbling from some green groups, big money opposition from industry and a president who would likely veto it even if it passes. Despite all that, Warner, Lieberman and Boxer say they will soldier on. Even if the bill falls short, Boxer says they will at least know the score.

BOXER: You know, if we fall short of 60, if the bill gets, you know 58, we’ll know who those two people are. And we’ve got eighty percent of the people in America want a strong global warming bill. So, we’re gonna play hardball with this. Hardball – because this is about saving the planet.

YOUNG: Hardball season begins June the second – that’s when the Warner-Lieberman bill is scheduled to hit the Senate floor for debate.

For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.



To read the Climate Security Act, click here

The Friends of the Earth campaign against Warner-Lieberman

Read the Sierra Club statement on the bill


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