3 senators propose cutting greenhouse gas emissions about 17% by 2020

After a 12-day summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, 193 leaders from around the world reached an agreement on how to combat climate change.
By David A. Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 11, 2009

The trio of senators who are trying to write a bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions released a "framework" Thursday that they had agreed to.

It showed they had not agreed to very much.

Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said the framework was intended to send a message to delegates in Copenhagen for international climate talks. "The movement for climate change legislation in the United States Senate is alive and well," Lieberman said.

But the message was still fairly general: The senators revealed few details about their plans and said they were negotiable.

"The reason there's not specifics [being released] today is very specifically because of the process that we are honoring," Kerry said. He said the three would need to talk to Senate committee chairmen about their ideas and did not think a bill would be voted on until spring. "We don't want to jump ahead of the committee process."

Their news conference came on the same day that President Obama, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, said threats to peace might increase along with greenhouse gas emissions, if nothing were done to reduce them.

"The world must come together to confront climate change," he said. "There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades."

In Copenhagen on Thursday, negotiators made little progress, hindered in part by an effort by small island states to push for an ambitious and legally binding treaty over the next week. That plan, proposed by the Pacific nation Tuvalu, is opposed by delegates from China, Saudi Arabia and other influential countries, who say there is no chance the talks will produce a legally binding treaty with the stringent requirements Tuvalu envisions.

The three senators proposed cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions "in the range of" 17 percent, as measured against 2005 levels, by 2020. The same goal was included in a bill passed by the U.S. House over the summer, and Obama proposed a national goal to cut emissions "in the range of" 17 percent in the days before the Copenhagen conference.

The senators said they continue to support a "cap-and-trade" system, in which polluters can either cut their emissions or buy credits that pay others to reduce them instead. But they don't support the name, which opponents have twisted into "cap and tax."

"You remember the artist formerly known as Prince?" Lieberman said. "This is the market-based system for punishing polluters previously known as 'cap and trade.' "

Also, the senators said they favored expanding offshore drilling for oil and natural gas, an increase in nuclear-power plants and more money for research to reduce emissions from coal plants.

Those ideas worried some environmental groups. Oceana said the increase in offshore drilling could create a higher risk of spills. But other environmental groups said an agreement that included a key Republican was a step forward.

The White House released a statement saying Obama "believes this is a positive development towards reaching a strong, unified and bipartisan agreement in the U.S. Senate."

Also Thursday, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced a climate bill using a model in which the government would auction off pollution permits and funnel three-quarters of the money back to every American in monthly payments.

"You've got to buy people's confidence that you can make this transition off carbon in a predictable fashion," Cantwell said. "We're going to protect consumers by giving them a check back."

Eilperin reported from Copenhagen. Staff writer Steven Mufson contributed to this report.

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