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Senate begins hearings on proposals to cut emissions
San Francisco Chronicle


January 30, 2007

WASHINGTON -- The Senate, showing a new enthusiasm for the fight against global warming, begins hearings this week on competing proposals by lawmakers to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

Last year, the Republican-led Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held regular hearings on whether global warming was a hoax. But Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who now chairs the panel, is staging a rare open-microphone hearing Tuesday, where senators will offer their ideas for tackling climate change.




Calls for action will probably grow when the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change issues a report Friday in Paris that is expected to show increased certainty among scientists that human use of fossil fuels is causing warming. The report also includes projections about the damage that various regions could suffer from rising sea levels, heat waves and droughts.

The Democratic takeover of Congress, combined with growing calls from industry, religious leaders and the public for action, has dramatically improved the chances for legislation that could set limits on carbon-dioxide emissions, raise fuel economy standards, and require greater energy efficiency for buildings.

"There is just a coming together of so many different groups and so many individuals in favor of moving forward to combat global warming," Boxer said in an interview last week. "It's very, very encouraging."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is putting pressure on House Democrats to act fast by creating a new select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and setting an ambitious deadline of passing climate-change legislation by July 4.

"Global warming is an increasing threat to our world, with implications for our health, food supply, and the survival of many species and perhaps entire ecosystems," Pelosi said in a speech last week to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "We cannot afford to wait."

The groundswell for action has been so great that even President Bush is recalibrating his stance on climate change.

Bush still opposes a mandatory cap on emissions, which many see as a critical step to halt and start to reverse the rapid accumulation of heat-trapping gases. But his push for alternative fuels and raised fuel-economy standards - along with calling climate change a "serious challenge" in his State of the Union speech - was seen as an acknowledgment by the White House that some federal response is needed.

Much of the pressure on Congress and the administration is coming from outside organizations. A group of evangelical leaders formed an unusual alliance with scientists this month to urge lawmakers to act. The Rev. Rich Cizik, the public policy director for the National Association of Evangelicals, warned at a news conference, "God will judge us for destroying the creation."

Industry groups are also pressuring policymakers. Ten leading companies - including Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, DuPont, General Electric, Pacific Gas and Electric and even Duke Energy, one of the nation's leading users of coal - joined with four environmental groups last week to call for sweeping legislation, modeled on California's climate-change laws, to limit emissions from every sector of the economy.

Many of the companies believe greenhouse-gas limits are inevitable, so they would rather see it happen sooner so they can factor in the new rules as they design products or build power plants that could be in use for decades.


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