(CNSNews.com) - The Senate has started debating a bill that would set caps on greenhouse gas emissions - a bill that opponents say could wind up costing Americans trillions of dollars and do more harm than good. Environmentalists, however, laud the legislation as Congress' biggest action yet to battle climate change.
The Climate Security Act, sponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.), proposes setting caps on the greenhouse gases emitted by U.S. power plants, transportation, manufacturing, and natural gas sources. The caps will become more restrictive in coming decades, and the eventual objective is to reduce total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 66 percent below the 2005 level by the year 2050.
Under the proposal, companies may trade, save and borrow emission allowances. Supporters say the government will use the money raised by the auction of set-aside allowances to develop new technologies and protect low- and middle-income Americans from high energy costs.
In an address Monday, President Bush said he opposed the Lieberman-Warner bill, which he said would impose $6 trillion in new costs on the U.S. economy.
"There's a much better way to address the environment than imposing these costs on the job creators, which will ultimately have to be borne by American consumers," he said.
Free-market groups say the legislation would damage the economy and do little to reverse or halt climate change - even if global warming really is a man-made phenomenon, an idea that many conservatives question.
Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the bill would dramatically increase energy prices and slow economic growth. The poorest Americans would be hardest hit by the increased price of energy, Ebell said, making the bill an "economic train wreck."
"It will do very little to address the alleged problem of future global warming," Ebell told Cybercast News Service. "It has very few benefits and very high costs."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008 will cost the average American household $1,000 to $6,700 annually.
William Kovacs, the group's vice president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs, said a better way to confront climate change would be to develop and deploy new technologies.
"Instead of creating new jobs by promoting new technologies, this bill slashes jobs in a country that's already facing economic headwinds," Kovacs said. "As gas prices vault to record highs, is now really the time for Congress to pass legislation that will only raise prices on hard working Americans?"
Proponents of the bill, like Manik Roy, director of congressional affairs for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, accuse the administration and other opponents of using the current economic difficulties to scare Americans into opposing the legislation.
"With the gasoline prices and with the recession, it is very easy to -- if I may be blunt --demagogue this bill," Roy said.
Roy said it is "of paramount importance" that humans do what they can to avoid the impacts of climate change, which he said will have negative economic consequences in the future.
In response to claims that the bill would slow economic growth and provide huge costs to Americans, Roy said the economic effects of the bill will not be significant, compared to the possible effects of climate change.
"We are not talking about a reduction in the national economy, we are talking about changes in the rate at which it grows," said Roy. He pointed to economic models that how the bill would allow continued robust economic growth in the United States.
But Patrick J. Michaels, senior fellow in environmental studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the U.S. does not currently possess the technology needed to substantially reduce emissions.
"The only way this technology will develop will be with investment capital, so bills like this are counter-productive, because they are going to cost everybody a lot of money," Michaels said in an interview Tuesday.
Ebell, meanwhile, said it is doubtful the bill will pass this year, but supporters of the legislation will try to make as much progress on the legislation as possible, with plans to reintroduce it next year under a new president.
"I think it's important for those of us who oppose the bill to try to stop as much of its progress as we can," he added.
Presidential candidates Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz), both support some type of emissions caps.
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