Utility Chiefs Wary of Emission Limits
Tuesday, March 20, 2007; 4:44 PM
WASHINGTON -- Top executives of some of the country's largest electric utilities gave guarded support Tuesday _ or at least said they were not opposed _ to mandatory carbon emission limits to deal with global warming.
Still, the executives expressed concern over the potential for huge electricity cost increases, depending on how such emission limits are imposed.
The executives, at a hearing of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, said any legislation that would require a cap on carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, especially coal, should have provisions aimed at limiting the economic impact of carbon-capture technologies that will be needed.
Congress is considering an array of proposed bills aimed at curtailing the release of so-called "greenhouse" gases into the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning. Scientists believe unless those emissions are rolled back the planet will become warmer causing severe climate consequences later this century.
Rep. Rich Boucher, D-Va., the subcommittee's chairman, said climate legislation is all but certain to move through the House and that a cap on carbon emissions is being considered, though details have yet to be worked out.
As the utility executives testified, hundreds of people demonstrated outside the Capitol, calling on Congress to act to combat climate change.
"There's no question global warming poses the greatest long-term threat to our health and environment," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., told the crowd.
The Senate is considering a number of bills that would impose caps on carbon releases, several aiming to cut emissions by as much as 80 percent by mid-century. Such a bill was introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., on Tuesday in the House with 120 co-sponsors. Environmentalists noted a similar Waxman bill last year attracted only 14 original co-sponsors.
The utility industry has acknowledged that it expects Congress to take action on climate change. Utility executives want to make sure their views will be taken into consideration as details of a bill are worked out.
There is wide agreement within Congress that if emissions are capped, there also should be a market-based system in which emissions credits can be traded to reduce the cost on utilities _ especially those heavily relying on coal.
Such an economy-wide cap-and-trade system "will unleash the power of the market to adopt creative, cost-effective responses across all economic sectors," James Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy Corp., told the hearing.
Rogers and Jeffry Sterba, chairman of PNM Resources Inc., based in Albuquerque, N.M., favor a cap-and-trade climate bill, arguing that it can be fashioned to keep costs under control.