US Senators Face off on Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Author: Chris Baltimore
"We need to cap and eventually significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment Committee.
Efforts to limit emissions of US heat-trapping gases have moved up the Senate's list of priorities since Democrats took control of Congress this year. The issue has been touted by senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois -- leading Democrats in the race for the 2008 presidential nomination.
It is also a priority for Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, one of his party's leading contenders.
Boxer's panel must sort through at least five proposals aimed at global warming. Some address only utility sector emissions while others try to cut emissions across the entire economy, from power plants to cars to factories to buildings.
The United States is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, melting glaciers and rising sea levels.
Last week, President George W. Bush called climate change a "serious problem," but he has opposed mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts to cap US carbon emissions have failed in the Senate and are opposed by many Republicans.
But McCain and Clinton both called efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions an issue "whose time has come."
With talk of the presidential race already gripping Capitol Hill, camera shutters clattered as Obama and McCain shook hands at the meeting. Obama told reporters that at least among Democrats, "I think everybody's going to be singing from the same hymnal on this one. I don't think there will be too much separation between the candidates."
Obama is a sponsor to a bill introduced by McCain and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut independent, which would cut emissions to one-third of 2000 levels by 2050 using a system that allows companies that cut their emissions sharply to sell credits to companies that fail to reduce emissions.
Notably absent from the meeting were Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican and an announced presidential candidate, and Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican and possible candidate.
Panel Republicans warned that mandatory carbon caps could hurt the US economy, and accused Democrats of pandering to voters ahead of the 2008 election.
"A rush to climate change at this moment, my apologies to Senator Clinton, has something to do with a 2008 election," said Sen. Larry Craig, Idaho Republican.
Sen. James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and former chairman of the committee, disputes the scientific consensus that global warming is caused by human actions. He took a swipe at former vice president Al Gore, whose documentary on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," has been a box-office hit.
"Al Gore thinks he can use climate change and global warming -- he thinks that's his ticket to the White House," Inhofe said. Gore has recently said he has no plans to run.
But Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican of New Hampshire who did not attend the meeting, submitted a strongly worded statement calling climate change "one of the most serious environmental problems facing our planet."