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by J.R. Pegg

Gore Warns Congress of "Planetary Emergency"

(ENS) WASHINGTON -- Republican senators clashed Thursday with the Democratic chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee over her schedule for consideration of a bill to set mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Committee chair Barbara Boxer intends to hold a committee vote on the bill early next month, a timeframe several Republicans complained does not give them time to thoroughly analyze and debate the measure.

The committee will hold a second hearing on the bill next week, before voting on the measure December 5. The bill is jointly authored by Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia.

The schedule is not "conducive to good public policy," said Senator George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican, at the first of two planned hearings on the bill.

Voinovich and other Republicans urged Boxer to delay action, requesting she wait until the EPA or the Energy Information Administration has had time to provide detailed analysis of the proposal.

"The pace of committee action is unprecedented and belies the significant impact the bill will have on the U.S. and international economies, the environment and our quality of life," said Voinovich.

Both Voinovich and Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe accused Boxer of trying to score political points ahead of next month's United Nation's climate change meeting in Bali, Indonesia

"I'm asking that you slow it down," Voinovich said. "I know Bali is coming up in December, and I know that some people would like to go with maybe a scalp in their hand. We're doing something. But Madame Chairman, this is too important. This is too important to rush it down the road."

The Ohio Republican's comments drew a sharp response from Boxer.

"You don't have to tell me that this is important or that voices need to be heard," the California Democrat said, adding that the Bali meeting has "nothing to do" with the schedule.

The committee has held 20 hearings on climate change, Boxer added, and lawmakers are hardly unfamiliar with the concepts in the legislation, which was approved last week by a global warming subcommitee.

"We are not rushing this through, we are doing this in the right way," Boxer said. "This bill did not come out of the blue."

Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, noted that "anyone in this country or in the world who might be wondering why we haven't made more progress on addressing issues like climate change need only listen to the first 30 minutes of this hearing."

But Republicans persisted with their criticism.

"I also have grave concerns about the accelerated process with this particular bill because I don't think it allows us the opportunity to get it right," said Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican. "Yes there has been discussion of global warming for years in committee hearings. That is not the same at all as hearings specifically on this very voluminous and complex bill."

Boxer and other Democrats said Republican complaints about the schedule reflected a desire to delay action on a pressing environmental problem.

"We all know what a slow dance is around here," she said. "We weren't born yesterday. There seems to be this interesting chorus over there, let's slow it down, let's slow walk it. We think the time is now to act."

The debate prompted Senator Warner to weigh in from his office, where he is recovering from complications from his recent heart surgery.

In a statement read by Boxer, Warner reminded Republican colleagues that they had the opportunity to hold legislative hearings on other climate bills when they were in charge of the committee and "chose not to do so."

"We are making up for lost time in this Congress," Warner wrote.

The discussion of the timeframe for action in part overshadowed the significant policy differences that could derail what proponents acknowledge is a delicately crafted compromise. Boxer needs to get the approval of 10 of the 18 committee members to pass the bill out of her committee and there are critics on both sides of the aisle.

The proposal, written by Warner and Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman, would set up a complex emissions trading system, an approach similar to one already in use by the European Union.

The bill would set caps on U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases in order to cut levels some 19 percent by 2019, with the long-term goal of slashing emissions 63 percent from 2005 levels by 2050.

That target is too modest for Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, who noted that many scientists have suggested an 80 percent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions is needed to avoid dramatic changes to the climate.

"I have serious problems with this legislation because I believe it does not go far enough," Sanders said. "Why are we not listening to the scientific community and doing what they say needs to be done to avert the enormous tragedy that faces us if we do not get our act together?"

"Colleagues, I beg of you, we cannot continue to do politics as usual," Sanders urged. "Work this without old fashioned deals. The time is too late. The planet depends upon bold action."

Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, echoed Sanders' concern about the 2050 target and criticized language in the current bill that would allocate free emission permits to utilities, power plants and other industrial facilities through 2036.

"We should think twice before giving out the majority of free permits to companies with the highest level of emissions, such as coal-fired power plants," Lautenberg said.

Several Democrats on the panel want those permits auctioned off and the proceeds used to the fund development of cleaner energy.

"We ought to incentivize those who produce the most energy with the least amount of pollution," Carper said. "I just don't believe we are true to that principle here ... for me to be able to support this legislation I need assurances that that will be addressed."

Carper, who is considered a key vote for proponents of the bill, is also keen on expanding the bill to force power plants to reduce emissions of other harmful air pollutants.

"In order for me to be able to support this legislation, I need assurances ... that we also use this as an opportunity to address the emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury, that we don't let this opportunity pass us by," Carper told colleagues.

Republicans on the committee honed in on the potential economic costs of the bill, warning that the measure would increase energy costs, hurting U.S. companies, farmers and families.

"This would be a huge economic disaster for our country," said Inhofe. "The fact is that this bill ignores we are a growing economy with a growing population. It would be extremely costly to the economy to flatten emission growth, let alone cut emissions 70 percent."

Furthermore, the bill does not ensure that other nations -- notably China and India -- will cut emissions, Inhofe said.

"Officials in both countries have been extremely clear that they have no intention of slowing their growth out of concern over global warming," he said. "Yet supporters of putting the brakes on our own economy say that our leadership will encourage these other countries to follow us down this self-destructive path."

Lieberman argued that the United States has a moral imperative to act and warned that action is needed sooner rather than later.

"Are there costs? There are costs ... but if there was a fire in the kitchen of your house would you pay the costs of the fire department to have them come to put out the fire before your whole house burned down?" Lieberman said. "I think the answer is yes and that is where we are with global warming now."

© 2007 Environment News Service and reprinted by special permission

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Albion Monitor   November 8, 2007   (

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