Even if major polluters China and India refuse to accept carbon emission-reduction targets, unilateral efforts by the United States to cut emissions would make a significant difference in global warming, said Obama administration officials Tuesday.

“It’s very obvious that China has said they are not going to be involved in this thing…We also know that closely behind them India will not do anything…If the United States unilaterally adopts a climate bill, will it make any material change in terms of climate temperature?” asked Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-OK) during the inaugural hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on climate change legislation.

“Yes, it would,” responded Energy Secretary Steven Chu. He noted that China and the U.S. account for roughly half of the carbon dioxide emissions in the world.

“I’d say ‘yes,'” said Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. “The race is on for us to enter into a clean energy future.”

Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) called the hearing the “kick-off of [a] historic Senate effort” on the issue of climate change. She said she hoped to pass a bill out of the environment panel by the August congressional recess.

Boxer said she would use the “recently passed House ‘cap-and-trade’ bill as a foundation for her legislative proposal. However, she now suggests that she has serious questions about the ‘last minute deals’ cut to get the bill passed there, including the changes to how free allocations for carbon dioxide emissions would be divvied up among the participants in the electricity sector,” said energy analyst Christine Tezak of Robert W. Baird & Co.

If the emission allocations are tinkered with in the Senate, that could prove to be a problem in conference — if the bill gets to conference. Some Capitol Hill observers believe climate change legislation has less than a 50% chance of being passed out of Congress this year.

The closeness of the vote on climate change and energy legislation in the House (219-212) on June 26 presages a tough battle ahead over the controversial issue in the Senate (see Daily GPI, June 30).

The climate change measure is opposed by nearly every Senate Republican and about a dozen Senate Democrats. The Senate leadership doesn’t yet have the 60 votes that will be needed to bring a climate bill up on the floor. And the 60-vote goal may be elusive, given that senators will likely vote along geographic lines rather than party lines.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated that he would like other committees of jurisdiction to complete their mark-ups of climate/energy legislation by Sept. 18, which would set the stage for debate in the fall.

Republican members of the committee made clear their support for nuclear energy. “Why are we ignoring [the] cheap energy solution, which is nuclear?” asked Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). This is the “fastest way to reduce global warming,” he said.

Chu agreed that existing nuclear facilities operate safely, and that they produce 70% of the carbon-free electricity in the U.S. “Actually, from me you’re not going to get any reluctance” on nuclear, he said.

“We say ‘yes’ to an all-of-the-above” energy policy, including nuclear, clean coal, natural gas and geothermal, said Inhofe. He echoed the arguments of Republicans in the House that a cap-and-trade system would be a major tax on energy.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) called on the Senate not to repeat what it believes are mistakes in the House bill. “As the Senate begins its important work on climate legislation, lawmakers have an opportunity and obligation to get things right for consumers, businesses and our struggling economy. Copying the mistakes of the flawed House approach will not contribute to a comprehensive energy policy that creates jobs, grows the economy and addresses climate change,” said API President Jack Gerard.

Boxer took issue with a claim made by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) that EPA officials suppressed an internal report that didn’t support the agency’s position that greenhouse gases (GHG) contribute to air pollution and endanger public health. The EPA was alleged to have dismissed an analysis by a senior career economist in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE) that was critical of its proposed endangerment finding (see Daily GPI, June 26).

“I don’t believe it, but he’s [Barrasso] saying that EPA has dismissed or suppressed scientific material related to the endangerment finding,” said Boxer. “I think that is a brutal charge.”

Jackson said “transparency and scientific integrity will be cornerstone principles of my time at EPA and they will guide our actions.” She noted that the economist was given permission and encouraged to speak his mind on the endangerment issue. In fact, Jackson said his views were reflected in the EPA finding about the danger of GHG emissions (see Daily GPI, April 20).

Barrasso said he has called on the Oversight Subcommittee to conduct an investigation into the EPA endangerment finding.

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