Business groups target climate measure

Critics of mandatory curbs on greenhouse-gas emissions are lobbying against a measure pitched as a compromise approach to global warming, saying even its inclusion would threaten chances a comprehensive energy bill will pass in the Senate.

The lobbying push from groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Manufacturing Association and the American Petroleum Institute (API) comes as Senate Republicans were to discuss in a closed-door meeting last night which of several global-warming amendments members should support, if any.

The Senate may debate global-warming amendments to the broader energy bill this week.

The White House, too, has increased its lobbying, focusing on the approach offered by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, even though a federal review found it would not cause significant harm to the economy.

Supporters of that approach were waiting for word regarding whether Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), the chairman of the Energy Committee, was on board. Domenici met with Vice President Cheney, who apparently opposes the Bingaman bill, last week.

Domenici’s chief of staff, Alex Flint, indicated in a briefing to reporters that Domenici felt the weight of scientific evidence showing the planet is warming because of greenhouse-gas emissions may justify a mandatory target. Flint reportedly indicated that Domenici would not support a measure, however, if it threatened the larger energy bill.

Some view Bingaman’s bill because it doesn’t require immediate cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions. Instead it would slow the growth rate of emissions, which is similar to a voluntary program backed by the administration. Several environmental groups have said the Bingaman bill does not go far enough.

As the economy expands, greenhouse-gas emissions would continue to rise under Bingaman’s bill, but at a lesser rate than they would otherwise. The  bill sets mandatory targets and sets up a so-called “cap and trade” program to help businesses meet the theme.

Bush’s Climate Vision approach is voluntary and sets no mandatory caps, just broad targets.

Bingaman’s approach is based on a proposal made by the National Commission on Energy Policy, a group of industry, environmental and political leaders that released a report on energy policy last year.

Businesses that couldn’t meet the target could purchase allowances in the open market or from the government. Allowances would be capped at $7 per ton of greenhouse-gas emissions to keep the economic impact of the bill minimal.

Other climate-change proposals include a tougher bill offered by Sens. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, that would require greenhouse-gas emission be cut to 2000 levels by 2010. To win broader support than a similar measure rejected last Congress, the senators have added a piece to encourage the expansion of non-emitting nuclear power to generate electricity.

Another measure expected to be offered by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) is less stringent than either the Bingaman or McCain-Lieberman approach. A bill Hagel supported last Congress focused on funding research into technologies to curb emissions and setting voluntary targets.

The energy bill that passed the House does not address climate change.

Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation expressed optimism that climate-change legislation has seen a “surge of momentum across the board” in the Senate.

Though his group favors the McCain-Lieberman bill, Symons also said he supported a provision in the Bingaman measure to use receipts from allowance purchases to pay for environmental programs.

“Fundamentally, there is a whole new ballgame in the Senate,” Symons said.

But there remains significant opposition to climate change bills.

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, which represents the pipeline industry, for example, wrote lawmakers last week that it “strongly opposes the climat-change amendment offered by Bingaman.

The group argues that its members will not easily be able to pass on added costs to their customers, leaving them to pay for emissions credits even though they don’t drill for natural gas or use it to produce electricity or heat homes.

Meanwhile, the National Mining Association, which represents coal companies, is targeting lawmakers from coal states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and Western states along the Powder River Basin, such as Wyoming.

The amendment has the potential to “wreak havoc on the energy bill,” said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the mining association.

“This is not a moderate solution to whatever climate-change problem there might be,” he said.

Conservative think tanks that hold sway with some GOP members also came out against the Bingaman bill. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which broadly opposes government regulations, called the Bingaman measure a tax on energy.

“If the Senate votes to add the Bingaman climate amendment to the energy bill, then we will do everything we can to organize opposition to defeat the energy bill,” said Myron Ebell, CEI’s director of global warming policy.

Russell Jones of the API said inclusion of the Bingaman amendment would “seriously complicate passage of an energy bill.”