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New York Times

Climate Bill Is Threatened by Senators


August 7, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Ten moderate Senate Democrats from states dependent on coal and manufacturing sent a letter to President Obama on Thursday saying they would not support any climate change bill that did not protect American industries from competition from countries that did not impose similar restraints on climate-altering gases.

The letter warned that strong actions to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases would add to the cost of goods like steel, cement, paper and aluminum. Unless other countries adopt similar emission limits, the senators warned, jobs will migrate overseas and foreign manufacturers will have a decided cost advantage.

"As Congress considers energy and climate legislation," the senators wrote, "it is important that such a bill include provisions to maintain a level playing field for American manufacturing."

"It is essential that any clean energy legislation not only address the crisis of climate change, but include strong provisions to ensure the strength and viability of domestic manufacturing," the letter said.

The 10 senators are seen as crucial undecided votes in the Senate debate on climate legislation. The House narrowly passed a climate bill in late June, but the Senate is moving slowly, in part because it is preoccupied with health care legislation.

The senators represent Midwestern and coal-producing states from which many of the 44 Democrats who voted against the measure in the House come from. Without their support, it is unlikely that the Senate can pass a major climate change bill.

The 10 senators were Evan Bayh of Indiana; Sherrod Brown of Ohio; Robert C. Byrd and John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia; Bob Casey and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania; Russ Feingold of Wisconsin; Al Franken of Minnesota; and Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

They called for transition aid for energy-intensive manufacturers in the form of rebates on their energy costs; negotiation of a strong international agreement on emissions; programs to monitor emissions in other countries; and significant financing for clean energy technology.

The authors also proposed "border adjustments," tariffs, on goods from countries that do not agree to an international program for carbon dioxide reductions. The House bill gives the president the power to impose such penalties on goods from countries that do not adhere to an international climate change regime.

"Climate change is a reality and the world cannot afford inaction," the senators wrote. "However, we must not engage in a self-defeating effort that displaces greenhouse gas emissions rather than reducing them and displaces U.S. jobs rather than bolstering them."

In an interview shortly after the House vote, President Obama said he was concerned about the tariff provision of the House bill, calling it potentially protectionist.