By Shaun Tandon (AFP) – Dec 10, 2009
WASHINGTON — Senators unveiled a framework for future US action on climate change, embracing emission cuts in a boost for the Copenhagen summit, but also including controversial measures on nuclear power and offshore drilling.
President Barack Obama heads next week to the 192-nation climate talks hoping to show US leadership, but the Senate has yet to finalize plans for the first nationwide restrictions on carbon emissions blamed for global warming.
Three senators across party lines instead offered an outline for future legislation that they hope to approve early next year.
"This indicates to folks in Copenhagen that we're serious," Senator John Kerry, a member of Obama's Democratic Party who spearheaded the drive, told reporters.
The framework says the world's largest economy would cut carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, slightly less ambitious than an earlier Senate bill but in line with Obama's proposals and a bill that squeaked through the House of Representatives in June.
But in a bid to win over reluctant Republicans, the framework said the United States will encourage nuclear power and offshore oil drilling -- policies of former president George W. Bush criticized by environmentalists.
A White House statement welcomed the framework as "another significant step in the effort to pass comprehensive energy reform.
"The President believes this is a positive development towards reaching a strong, unified and bipartisan agreement in the US Senate," it said.
Obama has pledged that the United States will play a strong global role on climate change, in a sharp reversal from Bush who opposed the current Kyoto Protocol as biased against wealthy nations.
Many Republicans remain critical. The party's Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, said action on global warming along with Democrats' campaign to expand health coverage to millions of uninsured would impose a "heavy cost on job creation."
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who broke ranks to co-author the climate framework, hoped his colleagues would be enticed by nuclear power and offshore drilling.
"The hope is that, as we develop more details, you'll see more Republicans and Democrats come," Graham said.
The framework said the US government would offer loans for new nuclear power plants and funding to train nuclear workers. Bush launched a drive to build new nuclear power plants, which had been suspended since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident.
Bush also supported drilling offshore for oil -- anathema to many environmentalists -- in a plan put on hold by the Obama administration. The framework was vague on how to support offshore drilling.
Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent who joined Kerry and Graham, predicted that the Senate would reach the magic number of 60 -- the votes needed in the 100-member chamber to break through stalling tactics.
"There are well over 60 votes in play," Lieberman said.
The framework also offers robust support for the use of coal by supporting research in so-called carbon capture, in which emissions are trapped before they are released into the atmosphere.
A commitment to coal is considered politically crucial to winning senators from mining states such as West Virginia, despite criticism from some green groups that the technology has yet to be proven.
Environmentalists gave mixed reviews to the framework.
Joe Mendelson, the global warming policy director for the National Wildlife Federation, said the senators have "bypassed the political stalemate" and "found a third way forward."
The framework "strengthens the president's hand as he works to lead China and other nations toward a global deal to fight climate change," he said.
But others said that the Senate was watering down US commitments that are already weaker than those by the European Union and Japan.
Republican climate skeptics have seized on a series of recently leaked emails from scientists to cast doubt on global warming and plan to fly to Copenhagen to deliver their message.
Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee welcomed their trip, saying other countries would see how far out of the mainstream their views were.
"Maybe they will have a little more sympathy for how difficult it has been to get to this point," Inslee told reporters.
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