February 3, 2006

US senators debate climate change; bill months away

By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican chairman and the top
Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee released on Thursday a
"white paper" on climate change issues that must be resolved
before they can introduce global warming legislation.

Their staff said they see little chance of Congress passing
such a bill this year.

The European Union, Japan and much of the rest of the
industrial world are imposing mandatory cuts on emissions
linked to global warming. The Bush administration favors asking
U.S. companies to join a voluntary emission reduction program.

Sen. Pete Domenici, who chairs the Senate's energy
committee, believes the United States should take a tougher
stand. Domenici and his Democratic colleague on the panel, Sen.
Jeff Bingaman, jointly issued the "white paper."

Alex Flint, Republican staff director for the energy panel,
said any climate change legislation is "months away" and such a
bill "is dependent on whether a consensus can be reached" on
how to deal with global warming.

The paper seeks answers to several key questions, including
whether the entire U.S. economy or just certain sectors should
be regulated in any greenhouse gas program.

The paper notes that no single sector of the U.S. economy,
such as transportation or industry, makes an overwhelming
contribution to America's total greenhouse gas emissions.

"If a key design feature is fairness, then no one sector
should be singled out," the paper says. "An economy-wide
approach also allows for ease in seeking the least-cost path to
(emission) reductions through trading systems."

The paper also asked how to allocate emission-reduction
credits among industry sectors, like coal-burning utilities and
oil refineries.

In a briefing with reporters on Capitol Hill, Flint said
the public will be asked to comment on issues raised by the
paper and the committee will hold a conference in March to hear
from climate change experts and industry representatives.

Domenici and Bingaman eventually hope to incorporate the
suggestions into legislation. Climate legislation already faces
strong opposition from other senators, a large chunk of the
House of Representatives and President George W. Bush, who
opposes mandatory emissions cuts for U.S. companies.

Senior staff did not think a bill would get very far this
year, but would lay the groundwork for action in a future
Congress. Bob Simon, the energy committee's Democratic staff
director, said it would be "difficult" to get the legislation
through Congress this year.

Flint said the "ground is shifting" among lawmakers to deal
with climate change. But he would not predict whether a climate
change bill could make it to the president's desk this year.

He said it was "inevitable" Congress would pass climate
change legislation at some point, but could not say when.