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FYI Number 152: November 24, 2003

Senate Votes Against Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Emissions Controls

On October 30, for the first time, the Senate held a vote on climate change legislation. By a vote of 55-43, senators defeated the "Climate Stewardship Act of 2003," sponsored by Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ). The bill, S. 139, would have required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions - including carbon dioxide - to 2000 levels by the year 2010. While it was not expected to pass, its sponsors indicated they would consider their effort a success if they received more than 40 votes, and they promised to continue pursuing similar legislation in the future.

The results of the vote will be provided in FYI #153. Prior to the vote, there was lengthy floor debate on the measure. Selected quotations from the debate are provided below. Some paragraphs have been combined in the interests of space:

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): "The fact is, the overwhelming body of scientific opinion in America and the world believes that human activity is causing climate change in the world, and that is an irrefutable fact. The opponents of this can shop around for the scientists of their choice, but the overwhelming majority of scientists say this and every year that evidence becomes more compelling and every year it becomes more of a compelling problem because of the manifestations of it."

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): "I want to applaud Senators Lieberman and McCain for presenting this meaningful and comprehensive plan. The McCain-Lieberman bill will require mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the United States from broad sectors of our economy. Rather than just aiming to limit industrial emissions - as other plans have done - this legislation will require emissions reductions from four major sectors of the economy: electric utilities; industrial plants; transportation; and large commercial facilities.... The McCain-Lieberman legislation relies on a national ‘cap and trade' system to reduce the air pollutants that contribute to climate change.... It gives participants the flexibility of the marketplace, and it works."

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE):"How our Nation addresses global climate change may prove to be one of the most important economic and environmental decisions of our time.... We should recognize the efforts of Senators McCain and Lieberman and others on this particular issue. Although I disagree with the approach they have proposed, I understand and share their concerns.... The McCain-Lieberman bill would create mandatory emissions reductions for greenhouse gases here in this country. The consequences of such mandates are severe. This bill would raise energy prices for consumers, agricultural producers, business, and industry, and have a very negative impact on our economy.... Global warming does not recognize national borders. The changes under consideration today are proposed solely for the United States, but our global warming policy must be broader. The United States alone cannot improve the Earth's climate."

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): "As the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, the U.S. has a duty to act.... The McCain-Lieberman amendment is the right place to start. This is a modest amendment. We would need to be back to our current level of emissions by 2010.... The amendment covers six greenhouse gases and the vast majority of our greenhouse gas emissions.... According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this amendment would cost less than $20 per household over the life of the program - we can afford this cost."

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R-ID): "[This] proposal, S. 139, The Climate Change Stewardship Act, is portrayed by its proponents to be a modest legislative attempt to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It is hard for me to accept the word ‘modest' as an accurate descriptive term for the legislation when I measure the bill by what it does - it regulates carbon dioxide - a gas that is not a criteria pollutant under the Clean Air Act, is not a poisonous gas or toxic substance, and does not represent a direct threat to public health.... [T]he science today is not yet assembled that can in any definitive way argue that greenhouse gases and man's presence in the production of those greenhouse gases is creating the heating trend in our global environment at this time."

SEN. JIM BUNNING (R-KY): "I believe the science we have seen does not support the need to engage in questionable policies to control so-called ‘global warming.' We need more evidence that the climate is actually affected by emissions, especially carbon emissions, before we act too quickly.... Instead of arguing over scientific data, we should examine the impact S. 139 could have on American jobs and the economy.... I don't see why we should vote to increase energy costs and unemployment. Voting for this bill does that. It may make us feel better to support this bill because of its environmental symbolism. But I will choose substance over symbolism any day. American jobs are of substance."

SEN. JIM JEFFORDS (I-VT): "There are those who say that climate change is a hoax, a concoction of radical environmentalists and a liberal media. That is simply hogwash or maybe the whitehouse effect.... To ignore and dismiss the threat of climate change to the economy and the environment is like insisting the earth is flat. It flies in the face of reality.... Twice now, in the energy bills, the Senate has passed resolutions asking the President to enter into negotiations with all nations to obtain a binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have been ignored. The administration has taken no action to accomplish such a treaty or adopted any policy that will result in real and tangible reductions.... I urge Senators to support the Lieberman-McCain bill."

SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D-ND): "We ignore the health of our environment at our peril. So the question is not whether but rather how we address these questions that are being raised about our environment, about climate change and global warming.... We now live in a global economy and these issues must be addressed globally. We cannot create emissions caps and targets that we enforce unilaterally in a manner that encourages American companies to move overseas and avoid these restrictions. If we do that, we will end up doing little or nothing to protect our environment while harming our economy.... While I think this proposal today falls short, I intend to be a constructive part of future proposals that can and will offer leadership in the right direction."

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT): "As I hear the science - so-called - cited on the other side, I want to predict, respectfully, that we are going to look back at those scientific testaments and put them in the same category as the scientific studies that were introduced by the tobacco industry years ago...or the studies that were introduced by the chemical industry that said chlorofluorocarbons did not put a hole in the ozone layer.... Senator McCain and I and our cosponsors on both sides of the aisle have put ourselves on a course. History calls us to take action. We will not leave this course until the day - may it come sooner than later - when we adopt this amendment or something very much like it."

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3094

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