Global warming gains momentum in Senate

But possible amendments to energy bill to face fight

June 20, 2005|By Miguel Bustillo | Miguel Bustillo,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - For the first time since President Bush rejected the international Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases, momentum is building in the Senate to begin addressing global warming.

But skirmishing over competing proposals and opposition from the House of Representatives and the administration may prevent any plan from passing Congress this year.

The fate of the burgeoning effort to tackle global warming appears to hinge on whether Sen. Pete V. Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, decides to co-sponsor a modest limit on greenhouse gas emissions proposed by his state's junior senator, Democrat Jeff Bingaman.

An unprecedented joint statement by science academies from 11 nations, including the United States, this month helped convince Domenici that there is a consensus among scientists that human releases of heat-trapping gases threaten to increase temperatures and alter climate patterns, aides said.

But Domenici, the GOP point man on the Senate's version of the sweeping energy bill, is concerned that adding global warming limits as an amendment might sink the entire energy bill. He is also concerned it would alienate fellow Republicans, including the president, who are opposed to mandatory limits on greenhouse gases.

On Friday, Vice President Dick Cheney met with Domenici to share the White House's concerns, said Alex Flint, Domenici's top energy staffer, who stressed that Domenici was still considering how to proceed.

"Senator Domenici is now convinced that climate change is occurring and that we need to do something about it," Flint said Friday. "He is concerned, however, about creating a fissure in the Republican caucus and [with] the Bush administration."

If Domenici champions the legislation, supporters believe enough Republicans would follow suit to secure at least 50 votes in the Senate. If he does not, the Senate might have sufficient votes to pass it. But the amendment might lack sufficient backing to survive House-Senate negotiations over the final version of the energy bill.

None of the three alternatives emerging as possible amendments to the Senate bill enjoys the full support of Republicans, Democrats, business groups or environmentalists.

All three are significantly weaker than the Kyoto pact, which would have required the United States to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to about 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

The Bingaman amendment, which is attracting the most interest, would slow the accumulation of greenhouse gases but would not begin to reduce them until 2020 at the earliest.

A federal study showed that the proposal, based on the recommendations of a panel of business leaders, academics and environmentalists, would not damage the U.S. economy.

But it is being criticized by the Bush administration as a carbon tax in disguise because it contains a "safety valve" that would eventually allow emitters to buy their way out of the requirements for $7 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions. And some Democrats dismiss the amendment as too weak.

Another alternative is a revised version of the bipartisan global warming legislation that garnered 43 votes last year. It would establish a tighter cap than Bingaman's proposal but is still only about half as strict as the Kyoto requirement.

A third potential amendment, favored by some oil companies and other industries, is being criticized as an ambiguous set of taxpayer-funded subsidies to develop clean energy sources that doesn't require mandatory greenhouse gas reductions.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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