Sanders: climate change bill falls short

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(Host) Senators are debating a proposal tackling climate change.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders says it falls short of his expectation.

VPR’s Eric Niiler reports from Capitol Hill.

(Niiler) The climate change bill would create a market. But the goods on the market would be permits to pollute.

First, the federal government would set a numerical cap on greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Then it would divide that number into permits, and allocate them to polluters. So companies could buy or sell those permits on the carbon market.

That system is called cap-and-trade.

Connecticut Independent Senator Joe Lieberman is a principal author of the bill.

(Lieberman) "The market will do what we in this country have known that markets do best. They get the job done and drive prices down."

(Niiler) The cap would decrease each year. Theoretically, by 2050, emissions would be 65 percent below the 1990 level.

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders wants to go even further.

(Sanders) "If we are not aggressive in addressing global warming, this planet faces catastrophic problems in years to come and we’ve got to be aggressive."

(Niiler) Sanders’ plan would cut future emissions to 80 percent below the 1990 level.

There’s another difference between the Senators’ plans. Lieberman wants to give out some pollution permits for free. Sanders wants companies to buy them.

(Sanders) "You cannot simply pollute and destroy the environment with impunity. You are going to have to pay for that privilege."

(Niiler) But even Lieberman’s moderate plan is running into opposition.

Oklahoma GOP Senator James Inhofe is Vice Chairman of the Environment Committee. He warns that cap-and-trade would cost an average family of four an extra $3,000 a year. Inhofe compares that to a bigger tax bill.

(Inhofe) "We’ve got a lot of families of four in America. We’ve got to consider what kind of a tax increase this would impose upon them. This is very, very significant."

(Niiler) Senator Sanders admits that a cap-and-trade program will not be painless.

(Sanders) "If the question is: Will that be economic dislocation? Will people lose jobs? Will people be forced to pay higher for fuel? The answer is, yes. And we’ve got to address that, and we can address that."

(Niiler) A cap-and-trade bill died in the Senate four years ago, after industry groups launched a fierce lobbying campaign.

But now the power struggle is shifting. A group of utilities, oil companies and environmentalists have formed an unlikely coalition. They all want Congress to approve cap-and-trade, so everyone has a clear set of rules to follow.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Eric Niiler on Capitol Hill.


 AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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