Senate Panel Set to Take on Climate Bill

Daily News Article   —   Posted on October 26, 2009

(by Ian Talley, WSJ.com) WASHINGTON — The Senate debate over climate legislation is set to begin in earnest this week, with a key panel holding hearings on legislation that would curb U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions.

The hearings by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works mark the first phase in what is likely to be a months-long undertaking by Senate Democrats to try to pass a climate bill.

After months of delays, Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and John Kerry on Friday unveiled a more-detailed version of their climate legislation. The version of the bill, which would seek to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 20% below 2005 levels by 2020, includes new provisions intended to hold down costs to consumers and certain industries.

The Senate bill being debated this week is similar, in both broad outlines and many details, to legislation passed by the House. It would require companies across the economy to hold government-issued permits allowing them to emit greenhouse gases, which are believed to contribute to global warming. Over time, the government would reduce the number of permits issued, bringing down emissions, while allowing companies to trade the permits among themselves.

Like the House measure, the Senate bill attempts to ease the costs to industry by initially giving away for free permits to certain industries, such as electric utilities and makers of steel and cement.

Oil-industry officials reacted negatively to the latest version of the Senate legislation. Compared with other industries, oil companies would receive one of the smallest shares of the allocations in the current proposal, despite being one of the biggest greenhouse-gas sources. American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said the Boxer-Kerry bill was “worse” than the House version. “It will impose even greater costs on the economy and distribute those costs just as inequitably,” he said.

How the allocations are divided between industries is one of the most contentious aspects of the legislation. President Barack Obama, shortly after taking office, proposed auctioning off most of the emission permits to help fund tax cuts for the middle class. But the administration has given up on that approach in an effort to gain the support of many key industries, such as power companies and steelmakers.

The proposal by Ms. Boxer, of California, and Mr. Kerry, of Massachusetts, is likely to go through several iterations, as lawmakers seek to gain enough support to pass the measure on the Senate floor. Still, Democratic leaders are signaling that the measure faces a long road. Majority Leader Harry Reid has suggested the chamber may have to wait until next year to vote on legislation putting a price on carbon, in part because of the chamber’s preoccupation with health care.

Ms. Boxer has said she plans for her panel to vote on the bill as soon as the first week in November. That timetable could slip, depending on how Republicans respond to the latest version. Friday, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking member on the environment committee, said Republicans on the panel were prepared to block a vote on the legislation if the Environmental Protection Agency hadn’t conducted what he believed to be adequate economic study.  [“One would think that, prior to legislative hearings, the committee would have a thorough, comprehensive economic analysis to understand how an 800-plus page bill, designed to fundamentally reshape the American economy, affects consumers, small businesses, farmers, and American families,” said Inhofe in a statement.]

In a short analysis of the bill released late Friday, the EPA said the Senate version would have a similar estimated economic impact as the House bill, passed in late June. The EPA estimated the House bill would cost the average household 22 cents to 30 cents per day, or $80 to $111 per year.  [There have been widely conflicting price tags estimated for the climate bills. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the household cost of the House-passed bill at about $175 a year in 2020. It has not examined the Senate bill. But some industry-cited studies have put the cost much higher, some claiming possible added costs of as much as $3,000.]

-Stephen Power contributed to this article.

Write to Ian Talley at ian.talley@dowjones.com.

Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at wsj.com.

Questions

1. Name the two senators who have submitted a cap and trade bill for debate in committee this week.

2. How is the Senate bill similar to the bill that already passed in the House?

3. How will both House and Senate bills attempt to lessen the cost of cap and trade to businesses?

4. Why don’t oil industry officials like the latest version of the Senate climate bill?

5. Under what circumstances would Senate Republicans on the environmental committee block a vote?

6. Read the “Background” below. Then consider this: The Pew Research Center’s new poll on global warming shows that since last year the percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence that global temperatures are rising has declined. Note that 50% of Americans favor the government placing limits on carbon emissions. However, only 23% of Americans know what cap and trade legislation is.  (Read the poll results at people-press.org/report/556/global-warming.) The issue of cap and trade might seem complicated or boring. But it is important to understand! This issue will affect your future. You should understand both sides of the issue and base your opinion on the facts. Ask a parent to look over the information and discuss the issue with you.
Do you support government regulation of carbon emissions for businesses? Explain your answer.


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Background

Global warming is an important issue to understand.  The theory that man’s use of fossil fuels (burning coal, oil and gas for energy, which produces carbon dioxide, or CO2) is causing an imminent catastrophic change in the climate – global warming – is believed to be true by many scientists, climatologists, citizens, the mainstream media and Hollywood celebrities, and was made popular by former Vice President Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth.”  People who believe in this theory say we must reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced by limiting/reducing the amount of fossil fuels we use, or by purchasing offsets.

The belief that man’s activities are not causing an imminent catastrophic change in the climate is held by many other scientists (see MIT’s Professor of Meteorology Dr. Richard Lindzen’s commentary in Newsweek here). This view is very unpopular in the media and widely condemned by those who believe man-made global warming is fact. See Newsweek magazine’s online presentation “The Global Warming Deniers” here.  Those who do not believe man is causing the global temperature to rise don’t believe it is necessary to reduce the production of CO2 by reducing our use of fossil fuels or to purchase carbon offsets.

  • Greenhouse gases are components of the atmosphere that contribute to the greenhouse effect. Some greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, while others result from human activities such as burning of fossil fuels such as coal.  Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. (from wikipedia.org)
  • Carbon offsetting  involves paying others to remove or [contain] 100% of the carbon dioxide emitted from the atmosphere – for example by planting trees – or by funding ‘carbon projects’ that should lead to the prevention of future greenhouse gas emissions, or by buying carbon credits to remove (or ‘retire’) them through carbon trading. These practices are often used in parallel, together with energy conservation measures to minimize energy use. (from wikipedia.org)

ON GLOBAL WARMING and the KYOTO TREATY:

  • The theory of global warming is that the earth’s temperature is rising due to man’s use of fossil fuels (gas, oil).  It is believed that this temperature change will result in catastrophic problems in the environment.  To prevent this man-made climate change, countries need to restrict energy use (reduce use of gas and oil).
  • In the Kyoto Treaty governments agreed to limit greenhouse gas emissions (reduce their use of gas and oil).  They believe this will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions world-wide and will prevent global warming. 
  • President Clinton supported the Kyoto Treaty.  President Bush did not. He said it would harm the economy and cost jobs.  President Obama recently said that it would not make sense for the U.S. to sign it as it is about to end [in two years].
  • The U.S. and Australia are the 2 western countries that originally did not sign the Kyoto Treaty.  [Australia later signed the treaty.]  Great Britain did sign on.  China and India did not.
  • Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair believes in the theory of global warming and was a great supporter of the Kyoto Treaty. However, in November 2005 he backed away from the Kyoto Protocol (it is assumed he recognized that many countries would not live up to their obligations under Kyoto).
  • Australia’s newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made signing the Kyoto Treaty priority for his new government.  Days after Australia’s delegation backed a plan at the climate talks in Bali to make deep cuts to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, Prime Minister Rudd said the Government would not support the target. This announcement came after the electricity industry reported that it may not be able to meet growing consumer demand and comply with the 2020 target. The expectation after Rudd unseated (conservative) John Howard last month was that Australia would suddenly be a strong advocate for carbon dioxide emissions caps that would pressure the United States to do the same.  With Rudd doing this surprising about face, it appears unlikely that anything definitive will come from this highly-anticipated conference.
  • Global warming is a controversial issue.  Scientists today have two opposing views on global warming: 

The opposing viewspoints on global warming are: 

  • The earth’s climate is warming as a result of human actions; an extreme change in the earth’s climate is going to occur, caused by greenhouse gas emitted by the world’s use of fossile fuels (coal, oil, gas).  This temperature change will result in catastrophic problems in the environment. Humans must drastically reduce the consumption of fossile fuels immediately.  To prevent this man-made climate change, countries need to restrict energy use (reduce use of gas and oil).
    Liberals generally hold this view.  Check out two liberal organizations which defend this viewpoint:
    Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace.
  • Human activity does not affect the earth’s temperature.  Burning fossil fuels (gas, coal and oil) does not cause climate change.  The earth’s climate changes naturally, but not so much that it will cause a change of catastrophic proportions.  An extreme change in the earth’s climate will not happen.  There are natural warming and cooling trends over time.  In the 1970’s a coming ice age was predicted, but now that scare has been replaced with the current global warming scare. 
    Conservatives generally hold this view.  Two conservative organizations which support this view are:
    FriendsOfScience.org and Junk Science.
    NOTE: The UN climate conference (of Dec. 2007) met in Bali to discuss global warming met strong opposition from a team of over 100 prominent international scientists, who warned the UN that attempting to control the Earth’s climate was “ultimately futile.” The scientists, many of whom are current and former UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists, released an open letter (Dec. 13, 2007) to the UN Secretary-General questioning the scientific basis for climate fears and the UN’s so-called “solutions.”
    Read the complete letter here and the list of scientists who signed the letter here.

Resources

Watch a clip from a video “Not Evil, Just Wrong” that refutes Al Gore’s global warming movie “An Inconvenient Truth.”