WASHINGTON, March 12 – A leading US senator warned that deferring potentially costly actions to combat climate change because of the global economic slump amounted to "a mutual suicide pact.",
"Climate change is not governed by a recession, it’s governed by scientific facts about what’s happening to Earth. And you either accept the realities of the science or you don’t," said Democratic Senator John Kerry.
He spoke after some of his colleagues argued that the United States should not impose a cap-and-trade system for so-called greenhouse gases blamed for global warming because it amounts to a painful tax during a deep downturn.
"You don’t enter a mutual suicide pact because the economy is having a hard time right now," Kerry said after meeting with UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon seven months before global climate change talks in Denmark’s capital.
"You certainly have room to negotiate at what the rate and schedule is within that, but it doesn’t mean you can sit around and do nothing," said Kerry.
But the Massachusetts lawmaker and onetime presidential hopeful seemed to douse hopes that the United States would arrive in Copenhagen with the US Congress having already passed sweeping legislation to curb emissions.
He said the House of Representatives would likely pass its measure in June and that key Senate committees could act "before the summer" on legislation but warned that the whole Senate would have "a hard time getting that done."
Kerry said there would be enough progress to give Copenhagen negotiators "a very clear vision" of US plans and said foreign leaders he had spoken to had indicated "that will satisfy" the world of US action on the issue.
Key lawmakers had said earlier this year that they hoped to have sweeping legislation to fight climate unveiled by May and certainly done by the December talks amid hopes of forging a global agreement.
Kerry’s remarks came after Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who sits on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, warned against imposing a cap-and-trade system because it amounts to a painful tax.
"Now is not the time to put a national sales tax on every electric bill and every gasoline purchase," Alexander said of cap-and-trade, which aims to create financial incentives to fight pollution.
President Barack Obama favors the approach, which sets a cap on the total pollutants companies can emit and then forces heavy polluters to buy credits from entities that pollute less.
Cap-and-trade, already in practice in the European Union, is likely to be reinforced at UN climate talks in Copenhagen this December as the preferred strategy for slashing "greenhouse gases" blamed for climate change.
Energy Secretary Stephen Chu was pressed about the Obama administration’s aims for the carbon market at a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee.
The Nobel laureate scientist did not go into details, other than to note that cap-and-trade proposals feature in Obama’s proposed 3.55-trillion-dollar budget and would provide the framework "to make our economy less carbon-intensive, and less dependent on oil."
But Kent Conrad, the Budget Committee’s Democratic chairman, fretted over the impact of Obama’s budget on both companies and poorer people if utilities pass on the costs of government pollution permits to their customers.
"The budget as written probably can’t pass here," Conrad warned Chu, demanding "flexibility" on how the government intends to offset the costs attached to a cap-and-trade system.
Republican Senator Mike Enzi also warned Chu about the scheme’s impact at a time of deep economic distress, saying: "Cap-and-trade is a tax and that tax will be passed on to the consumer."
Alexander, Enzi and other senators from both political parties have urged the White House first to increase the government’s support for nuclear power and so-called "clean coal" before instituting an EU-style market for polluters.