The legislation faces a tougher fight in the Senate than in the House, where even a narrow majority rules. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) shepherded the legislation across the finish line, 219 to 212, after a furious lobbying effort on her part. In the Senate, where Obama will need 60 votes for passage, he faces up to 15 holdouts from his own party, predominantly Democrats from the Rust Belt, the South and farm states who fear the impact on energy costs in their regions.
The bill would create a “cap-and-trade” system placing the first national limit on greenhouse-gas emissions, gradually tightening those limits over the next four decades with a goal of reducing emissions by 83 percent before 2050. Major emitters of greenhouse gases — including any business that burns fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas or coal — would have to reduce their emissions or buy allowances, which would be traded on markets like commodities.
Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, has warned senators in recent meetings that the public does not respond favorably to terms such as “cap and trade” or even “global warming,” according to aides who have attended his presentations. Instead, Mellman has instructed Democrats to focus on talking up the goal of reducing dependency on foreign oil, creating new jobs and other consumer-friendly phrases not associated with the scientific efforts aimed at reducing carbon emissions.
At one point in his opening statement Salazar said the legislation is “about saving our children” from the harmful effects of pollution created by coal-fired power plants and other emitters of greenhouse gases.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) led the GOP push to provide tens of billions of dollars in loan guarantees to build 100 nuclear power plants, which would double the current number in the United States. “As we did that we could begin to close dirty coal plants,” said Alexander, leading Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who was on the Hill along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, to concur with his statistic that 70 percent of America’s non-carbon-emitting power comes from nuclear plants.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican considering a run for the presidential nomination in 2012, testified that a recent gathering of southern business leaders produced bipartisan opposition to the plan under consideration on Capitol Hill.
“There was little dissent about who would bear the cost . . . the consumer,” Barbour said, suggesting that the trading system would become too complicated. “Many Americans worry it will end up being an Enron-style manipulation scheme.”