US Congress takes a small "green" step

December 16, 2007

Republicans stall environment-friendly energy bill in Senate

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Republicans stall environment-friendly energy bill in Senate



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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Last week in the midst of the U.N. climate change conference in Bali, the U.S. Senate voted down an energy bill that included what was said to be a comprehensive approach to reducing carbon emissions. Among its reforms, the bill increases fuel economy standards for cars to 35 miles per gallon, requires utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and provides $21 billion in tax incentives for the production of clean energy. The bill buckled under pressure from Republican minority leader Senator McConnell, who threatened to filibuster the bill, primarily as a response to its repeal of $13 billion in oil company tax breaks. We’re joined now by Brendan Bell, clean energy lobbyist of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who was involved in crafting this bill. So first of all, Brendan, set the context for us. There’s been a lot of talk that if the Earth warms up two degrees, the consequences could be, some say, apocalyptic. So, first of all, two degrees more than what? And what do you think are the consequences if we get there?

BRENDAN BELL, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: The two degrees warming that we’re trying to avoid is two degrees celsius over historical levels. And that’s what the world’s leading scientists tell us is really the threshold when we start to see problems like the melting of large parts of Antarctica, the melting of the Greenland ice shelf; and that’s when we see sea level rise, we see populations turned into refugees across the world, and we see pressure on world food supplies. It’s really a humanitarian crisis that we’re trying to avoid.

JAY: And where are we now in terms of the two degrees? Are we past one?

BELL: Well, we’re moving there. And really this is an issue of two degrees threshold by about the middle of the next century. That’s why the scientists tell us we need to reduce our global warming emissions by about 80 percent below 2000 levels by 2050 to solve this problem.

JAY: And does your legislation get the U.S. there?

BELL: The energy bill is a down payment on getting us there. It shows the United States is serious about reducing global warming emissions, and it really takes us most of the way to about 2020. We need more steps. And, actually, the senate, the same week that it voted down the energy bill, or blocked the energy bill, actually reported out of a committee more comprehensive legislation that would actually cap global warming emissions.

JAY: So what happened to this bill? How does McConnell get away with this if, generally speaking, popular opinion is in support of this?

BELL: Well, the Senate will take up the bill again tomorrow morning, when we expect them to actually break the filibuster, and they will send it back to the House for a final vote before it goes to President Bush to be signed. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, but we think that given the rising price of gasoline, the real need for cutting our dependence on oil, for national security reasons, for consumer reasons, that this bill will become law, and it’ll be the first step in the fight to solving global warming and actually turning the ship around and showing the rest of the world that the United States is serious about curbing global warming.

(TEXT ON SCREEN): Following renegotiations, the Energy Bill passed the U.S. Senate by an 86-8 vote. The $13 billion tax increase on oil companies and the requirement for utilities nationwide to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources were both left out of the bill.

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