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Senate Resolution Backs Mandatory Emission Limits

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Science  01 Jul 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5731, pp. 32
DOI: 10.1126/science.309.5731.32a

Seven years after rejecting the Kyoto climate treaty by a vote of 95-0, the U.S. Senate has affirmed the science of global warming and for the first time called for “mandatory market-based limits” on greenhouse gas emissions. The bipartisan resolution is not binding. But it repudiates the long-standing White House position that research and voluntary action are preferable to limits, and the resolution will be part of a massive energy bill approved this week by the Senate.

“The sense of the Senate is changing,” says an aide to Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), one of 12 Republicans to support the resolution introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). The statement was co-sponsored by Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which plans hearings this month on a regulatory system for greenhouse gases.

The statement declares that “there is growing scientific consensus that human activity is a substantial cause of greenhouse gas accumulation.” The consequences, it says, include rising sea levels, temperatures increasing at a rate “outside the range of natural variability,” and more frequent and severe floods and droughts.

Before introducing his resolution, Bingaman had withdrawn a plan that would have made carbon-emitting credits much cheaper by using the 2012 emission levels as a target by 2020 and allowing the government to sell credits at a fixed price. Domenici had shown interest in the plan, but he later decided that there wasn't enough time to work out the rules. However, once Domenici stepped forward, “industry became very interested,” says Paul Bledsoe, a spokesperson with the National Commission on Energy Policy, a group of scientists, policymakers, and business leaders whose recommendations last year formed the basis for the Bingaman proposal.

Chipping away.

A federal energy bill now headed to conference would encourage low-emissions technologies like biomass reactors through financial incentives and tax breaks.


Passage of the nonbinding resolution followed the defeat of an emissions cap-and-trade system proposed by senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT). The plan, backed by many environmental groups, would use 2000 greenhouse gas emissions levels as a target for 2010 and set up a scheme of emissions credits; the credits then would be traded among emitters with no cost limits. This effort failed, by a vote of 60-38, for the second time in 2 years. During the debate, McCain criticized Domenici's reservations about picking industrial “winners and losers.” Said McCain: “I will tell you another loser, and that is the truth.” But Domenici deflected the attack: “To recognize there is a problem does not mean that [McCain's] way of solving it is the only solution.”

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) helped lead opposition to the Bingaman resolution, saying that several of its scientific assertions were “not true.” Bingaman aides said that Vice President Dick Cheney called for specific textual changes, including changing the word “mandatory” to “additional.” Cheney's office declined comment, although the White House has said that it opposes compulsory schemes. Inhofe's motion to block the resolution lost by a vote of 54-43.

Other aspects of the more than $36 billion energy bill passed by the Senate could cut carbon emissions if enacted. A successful amendment penned by Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) would authorize loans and financial incentives for companies to research carbon-cutting technologies, although those measures must be approved separately by a spending panel before any money would be available. An amendment by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to combat the “alteration of federal climate-change reports” was ruled out of order. It was a response to recent news that one-time White House staffer Philip Cooney, a former petroleum industry lobbyist with no science training, had edited climate science documents.

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