Senate Panel Takes Up ‘Cap and Tax’ Climate Bill on Tuesday

By H. Josef Hebert and Dina Cappiello | October 27, 2009 | 5:45 AM EDT

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) (Photo courtesy of Boxer's Web site)

Washington (AP) - Top Obama administration officials are looking to make their case before the Senate for aggressive action to combat climate change, even as Republicans show no sign of softening their dislike of a Democratic bill that would dramatically cut heat-trapping pollution.
Senate Democrats have all but abandoned the likelihood of getting a climate bill passed this year, although they hoped that they could show some progress at a Senate hearing on the issue -- such as clearing a bill out of a key committee -- in advance of international climate negotiations in Denmark in December.
Tuesday's hearing is the first of three planned by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, on the bill introduced last month and recently revised and updated with additional details.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the leading sponsor of the Democrats' climate bill, said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday and said it was urgent for the United States to show "some movement in the Senate" on restricting greenhouse gases ahead of the upcoming talks in Copenhagen on international efforts to combat global warming.
"We're just going to keep pressing on, we're going to keep working. We're going to do as much as we can," Kerry said after meeting with Reid. Kerry acknowledged that the Senate's tight schedule and heavy focus on health care has made action on climate difficult.
The White House has made clear its support for the 900-page Democratic bill that would cut greenhouse gases by 80 percent over the next 40 years. It was sending three Cabinet secretaries and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to the Senate hearing in hopes of persuading some wavering senators to support the measure.
Similar to a House-passed bill, the legislation would cap greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and large industrial facilities. Polluters would have to obtain emission permits, and the number of permits would be ratcheted down gradually to achieve the reductions. To ease the transition, polluters would be able to buy and sell allowances as necessary to meet the government-imposed caps.
Republicans have denounced the so-called cap-and-trade approach as a massive energy tax.
Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the committee's ranking Republican, said in an interview Monday that he expects Democrats to push the bill through the committee, but that it won't pass the Senate. Still, he said he and the other six GOP committee members are united in wanting to see additional information on the cost of the legislation beyond a cursory analysis provided by the EPA in a report released by Boxer late Friday night.
The EPA said that the Senate bill is so similar to the House-passed bill that the economic impact would likely be the same -- between $80 and $100 in additional energy costs a year for an average household. Critics of the bill argue the costs would be much higher.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a member of the committee, told reporters Monday that the cap-and-trade approach "is fundamentally flawed" and would raise energy prices and cost jobs. Instead Alexander called for 100 new nuclear power reactors to be built, incentives to make half the country's cars run on electricity and expanded natural gas development.
Meanwhile on Monday, Boxer turned to the Internet and YouTube to plead for action to combat global warming. The video, nearly a minute-and-half long, features the senator with her 10-month-old grandson, Sawyer, interspersed with images of congested highways, flooding from Hurricane Katrina and ice chunks falling off glaciers.
"A lot of people ask me `Why does this matter?'" she says in the video. "Right here. This is a beautiful grandchild of mine and it is his world that I worry about and we all should worry about."
Officials to testify are Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Senate Democrats have all but abandoned the likelihood of getting a climate bill passed this year, although they hope to show some progress at a Senate hearing on the issue.